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Agriculture sector provides food for 1.3 million people in India as well as supports over 60 percent of the population for their livelihood and plays a crucial role in sustainable growth of the country’s economy. Traditionally, agriculture has been seen as a low-tech industry with limited dynamics, largely controlled by a huge number of small families, which over the years paid attention to improving crop yield rather than looking at it as money making module.
Many farmers are forced to migrate to cities for their livelihood in the wake of lower remuneration or unbearable crop losses on accounts of volatile market dynamics or unpredictable weather conditions. Creating more industries in the urban areas for migrating farmers cannot be a solution to the economic problems being faced by the rural poor. There is need to bring about transformational changes in the agriculture sector by making farmers to change their outlook toward farming. They need to consider their farms as their businesses. Entrepreneurship should be encouraged in agriculture as innovation would not just help farmers improve crop productivity and thus more profit but create new avenues of employment generation for rural youth as well.
Tech entrepreneurship involves entrepreneurial skills, models and innovative ideas to solve problems in the farm sector and increase the profitability of the farming business with sustainable, community-oriented, directly marketed farm practices. It is not an opportunity but an imperative to achieve the Modi government’s target of doubling farm income by 2022 through the integration of latest technologies and innovations.
The central government has already invited private entrepreneurships in farming and allied sectors while announcing mega public investment for the sector last year. There is great potential for private investment in the agriculture sector, which can boost the sector. Over the past two decades, the corporate spectrum has seen number of entrepreneurial activities, in which farmers were assisted to get more yield through technological interventions and product aid. All these offerings include access to quality seeds, fertilisers, better irrigation system, farm tools and equipment. India needs innovation in the field of agriculture so that we provide right seeds and fertilisers to the farmers to increase the agricultural productivity, NITI Aayog CEO, Amitabh Kant says.
According to a NASSCOM study, India accounts for over 450 start-ups in the agriculture space and they raised nearly US$ 248 million until June 2019. Agriculture entrepreneurship can help tackle the challenges related to information dissemination, farm management, capital availability, mechanisation of farm and the agriculture supply chain. There are some successful examples of transformation of agriculture practices with the help of technology in the US, China and Israel. These countries have demonstrated that assortment of technology like hybrid seeds, precision farming, big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), geo-tagging, satellite monitoring, mobile apps and farm management software can be applied at every stage in agriculture process to increase productivity and farm incomes, says a report by National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management, which comes under the Agriculture Ministry.
There are number of opportunities for agri-tech start-ups to solve key farm-related challenges, which ranged from providing a fair price to the farmer to the creation of yield estimation models that can be used by farmers to bolster productivity by removing inefficiencies. Building system for data-driven diagnostics for determination of soil and crop health to enhance farm productivity as well as creating new technology to find alternative to pesticides and insecticides to prevent pre-harvest losses are the concerns that call for innovations on a large scale. Also, agriculture tools and equipment renting as well as easy access to certified micronutrients, seeds through online interface can be the attractive areas for agri-tech start-ups.
In north India stubble burning is a big menace. So, ways to find alternate usage of paddy straw can be one of the important solutions needed to be addressed urgently. Besides, innovations to inform farmers about timely and accurate estimation of sowing and harvesting in accordance with the market demands, technology to test adulteration of fresh produce, automated farming techniques and development of warning system for unpredictable weather patterns and pest infestation can be used to improve farming system. Last but not least, entrepreneurial intervention in the food processing and packaging can protect farmers hugely from price volatility of commodity markets and help earn additional money through exports. Agriculture entrepreneurship has potential to revolutionise the entire food chain, benefitting small land holding poor farmers and marginalised communities in a long term.
(The author of the article, Dr Shivendra Bajaj is the Executive Director of Federation of Seed Industry of India. Views expressed in the article are author's own.)