This article is contributed by Mr. Chattanathan Devarajan, Co-founder, Arya.ag
Agriculture sector in India continues to be the backbone of rural economy employing almost 50 percent of the country’s population with a contribution of 19.9% on the GDP. There has been an increased focus on the growth of agriculture and the Government of India has been talking about doubling farm incomes. It is in this context, that it becomes crucial to understand the potential impact and change agritech could create in the country and how new age agri start-ups are contributing to income improvements in rural households especially within the farming community.
Growth in AgriTech Industry
In the last few years, there has been a phenomenal growth in the agritech/agri-fintech space with substantial investments flowing in the sector. The pandemic allowed for a swift change and acceptance to digital technologies, and it is further anticipated that about USD 25 billion dollar investments need to flow into this sector. Also keeping in mind, the challenges of fragmentation, diversity and accessibility in the sector, the only way to bridge gaps is to overlay technology to the Indian agriculture ecosystem. Digital technologies led services that enable presence closer to farm markets can enable large scale irreversible positive change and the investments flowing into the sector are precisely working towards building these much-required efficiencies, traceability and trust in the agri value chain.
Pricing Factor in AgriTech Industry
Furthermore as is widely known, price is a factor of demand and supply and in India, the price of end produce is not absolutely under control. There is always a risk that continues to remain with some mitigation by way of MSP support by the Government. In this context, the ways in which farm incomes can be increased is through better yield and output. A farmer could work towards increasing productivity through high yielding varieties, the adoption of good agronomic practices and relevant inputs.
The problem of low incomes is further aggravated by the number of intermediaries in the value chain. Lower transparency of market prices, non-availability of competitive services closer to the farmgate and inefficiencies keeping with smaller quantities, often reduce the bargaining power of the small and marginal farmers. With limited access and resources, the cost of production increases and so do logistical expenses from farm to market. Each step of the value chain and the reduced efficiency that goes along with small and marginal farmlands, eat into the profit margins of the farmers and often, a farmer receives only 25% of the actual value of the agri-commodity.
Contributions of AgriTech Startups in Rural India
Most agritechs are working to solve these systemic challenges, re-balancing the agri value chain and shifting the power economics back into the hands of the producer. They are primarily trying to address the inefficiencies in the value chain and increase transparency, removing intermediaries as well as enabling easy access to finance.
We can broadly classify the agri startups contributions as follows:
- Increasing incomes through cost reduction: There have been lot of new agriculture start-ups which have been trying to provide input market linkages through their respective tech interface innovations. They strive to effectively aggregate the needs at the farm level and enable direct supplies of inputs, tools and tech to effectively reduce costs.
- Increasing productivity and optimisation of resources: By adopting information and technology-based farm management system more specifically called precision farming, and crop canopy management through satellite imagery, the use of better agronomic practices has led to appropriate usage of inputs and thereby increasing productivity and improving income of farmers.
- Storage solution and access to finance: Lack of farmgate storage and access to finance, often force farmers into distress sales. New-age agritech startups are looking at creating integrated solutions by enabling famers to store their produce through near farmgate storage solutions, digitising agri-commodities, triggering innovation in storage infrastructure and providing easy access to finance and leveraging the price differentials between off season and on season to improve rural farm incomes.
- Provision of higher price due to quality: Agritechs have had success with effective output quality management through AI and traceability due to technological advancements. This has had both reduction in food loss and better revenues.
- Providing efficient market linkages: Providing a good platform for increasing the optionality for sellers. Enabling more buyers for the same produce, ensures producers have both choice of whom to sell, when to sell and at what prices to sell at.
While some agritech startups have focused on one specific benefit and improved revenues in that section of the value chain, others have layered multiple services. A few of the agri start-ups are in nascent stage, few have moved to the proof of concept and a few have established business models. With the emergence of integrated platform players, one can witness growth in access for services like never before. Access to competitive services, products and tools are no longer limited to the tertiary markets but have seamlessly shifted to the primary and secondary markets. The key benefit in this growth is to the producers in the rural spectrum. Technology advancements have allowed for the growth of efficient and transparent value chains and these interventions have benefitted farmers and other stakeholders with an increase in revenues anywhere between to 30%. Indeed the agritech sector has immense potential to enhance the overall socio-economic considerations of the country’s rural ecosystem.