The rise of agri-tech is a safeguard for Indian agriculture

Technology can help to offset productivity and profitability losses in food value chains, writes Aneesh Jain, Founder & CEO, Gram Unnati

About Author: Aneesh Jain is the founder of Four Leaf Clover (operating under the brand name Gram Unnati), a DPIIT recognized agri value chain services company. Through Gram Unnati, Aneesh aspires to help every marginal farmer in understanding and producing as per the requirements of the industry, thereby enabling efficient engagement between the industry and the farmers. With over 13 years of experience in management consulting and social entrepreneurship, Aneesh has worked with the likes of McKinsey, TechnoServe, IFC and IFAD.  Aneesh hold a computer science engineering degree from IIT Kharagpur.

Today, Indian agriculture finds itself at a crossroads. Market economy is not friendly for farmers especially the smallholders – unseasonal rains are wreaking havoc and there is the looming threat of El Nino combined with the uncertainties of agricultural markets – all of which together aim to disrupt the earning potential of Indian farmers.
With around 55% of India’s arable land almost entirely dependent on precipitation, the amount of rainfall during the current monsoon season could sway economic activity in the agriculture sector and industries linked to it. This year, despite the growing threat of El-Nino, monsoon is expected to be more or less normal in most parts of the country as per IMD. However, North-Western part of the country is expected to receive only 92% of the normal rain. The North-western part is largely the grain basket of the country with farmers cultivating crops such as paddy, pulses, groundnut, etc. among others.
The growing threat of El-Nino could be offset by the development of another meteorological phenomena, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which tends to increase rainfall and thwart an El Nino. Six of the 15 El Nino years from 1951 to 2022 received rainfall that was either normal or above average. El Nino’s detrimental effects on the Indian monsoons may be lessened by the positive Indian Ocean Dipole and the low snow cover over the northern hemisphere, according to forecasts.
Amidst such changing times that could threaten Indian agriculture, the rise of agri-tech start-ups augurs well for country’s farmers. Technology can help to offset productivity and profitability losses in food value chains and minimise agrarian stresses by reducing manual errors and providing a deeply integrated digital framework for operational management.
Agri-techs hold the key to future agriculture
The rise of agri-techs in India is poised to add technology to the Indian agriculture ecosystem, taking into account the difficulties of fragmentation, diversity, and accessibility in the sector. The investments going into the industry are specifically aiming to establish much needed efficiency, traceability, and confidence in agricultural value chains.
Agri-techs are well equipped to create awareness regarding new, high yielding varieties of seeds that might also be tolerant to extreme weather conditions & help farmers adopt these seeds. They also make farmers aware about the latest technologies and agronomic practices which will help them cope with climate change. Through their unique technological interface, several agri-techs have been facilitating access to high-quality input linkages. In order to minimise costs of farmers, they work to effectively aggregate the demands at the farm level and facilitate direct deliveries of inputs, tools, and technology.
“Agri-tech companies are also working towards Introducing latest technologies and agronomic practices to farmers.”
Another set of agri-techs is working towards reducing post-harvest losses by developing technologies for local processing, smart packaging and transport facilities which do not disadvantage small farmers. These startups are aiming to develop integrated solutions by giving farmers access to storage facilities close to the farm gate, digitising supply chains, spurring innovation in storage infrastructure, facilitating easy access to finance, and utilising differences between off- and on-season prices to increase agricultural incomes. Additionally, they are facilitating access to a network of traders, retailers and exporters willing to buy farmers’ produce at fair prices.
Making it easy for farmers
Farmers and other supply chain participants have limited access to traceability, operational visibility in real-time, standardisation in quality evaluation, wide market access, and vital business insights for improvement in the post-harvest and marketing area. These issues can be avoided, and losses throughout the value chain can be reduced, with the help of integrated AI technology and smart data analytics.
Providing hand-holding support to farmers end-to-end starting with pre-sowing good agricultural practices to post-harvest practices that will minimize losses and connecting farmers with various extensions services of the Government to boost their knowledge on better crop management; constant monitoring of crop through technology & providing timely intervention wherever required; focus on crop diversification & inter-cropping etc.
Agri-tech companies are also working towards Introducing latest technologies and agronomic practices to farmers that will help them cope with climate change. Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are being used in the pre-harvest phase to manage crops, control pests, track soil and weather conditions, and send out fast notifications for efficient harvest management. This would help in raising productivity through greater resource optimization. Agritech are also creating and implementing AI-based solutions to address legacy problems, implement logistical solutions, forge connections between markets, digitise food quality assessment, eliminate operational complexities, expand access to agri-services, boost trade profit margins, and bring more trust and transparency along with profitability to the food value chain.
There are several agri-tech start-ups which provide a range of services from providing timely weather warnings to farmers to helping adopt newer, more tolerant varieties or more robust package of practices and developing market linkages for non-traditional crops. Some of these can assist smallholder farmers to switch to more remunerative and resilient agricultural models. What is critical is a coordinated effort – where all relevant services can be made available to the farmers in different areas.

*This article was first published in the June 2023 edition of the BioVoice eMagazine. The views expressed by the author are his own.