Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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Seeds of entrepreneurship

Seeds of entrepreneurship

The agri startup is a healthy emerging trend where young entrepreneurs promise the farmer a long-term bonding of mutual trust, says Bhuwan Bhaskar17 Sep 2018 | 1:49 AM

The idea to use technology through corporate intervention is still remote in the Indian agriculture sector. For decades, the agrarian and industrial economies were treated as unrelated entities, hence agriculture still looks at corporate interventions with suspicion.

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The idea to use technology through corporate intervention is still remote in the Indian agriculture sector. For decades, the agrarian and industrial economies were treated as unrelated entities, hence agriculture still looks at corporate interventions with suspicion. Until recently, companies' involvement in the farming communities was only through the corporate social responsibility (CSR). Anything beyond CSR raises distrust.  

There was some basis for this mistrust. While some corporate bigwigs did try to work in the fields with farmers posing as their friends, but it often turned out to be a proxy of marketing techniques to sell their seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and other materials. 

Thankfully, this situation is changing. In the past couple of years, the corporate spectrum in the country has witnessed a number of entrepreneurial initiatives, where the modus operandi is to connect with the farmers in the field, apparently for better yields through technological interventions and crop diversification. 

This latest trend is different from earlier attempts of the corporate majors. Now, most of these initiatives are being spearheaded by young professionals with humble backgrounds who have 'farmer welfare' and 'zeal to do something better for agriculture' at the core of their business philosophy.

They have a clear ethos: farms and farmers are not the subject of experiments. Unlike earlier attempts by big companies, these young entrepreneurs neither intend, nor do they try treating agricultural fields as their live laboratories. For them, the field is the boardroom and farmers are the partners in progress. There is no pretence of any high moral stand. It is pure business, a well-planned strategy for the startups. The model of these newly developed corporate initiatives, often termed as agri startups, is such that they need long-term bonding and mutual trust between the entrepreneurs and their clients (farmers). 

Unlike corporate, agri startups do not need thousands of hectare of land to transform farming by implementing their lab experiments the ground and make huge profits for shareholders. They need sufficient land for their bread and butter. Startups know that they would be out of business if the land and the farmers working with them turn hostile.

These startups have some salient features. Mostly, they work as aggregators of products and technologies. Agri Hub, Big Haat, EM3, Agro Star are some startups which are developing themselves as platforms to provide facilities to choose from multiple options in a particular segment. In their endeavour to cater to more and more farmers with utmost effectiveness, they continuously pursue new technological advancements in their respective specialities and the end beneficiary is, of course, the farmer. 

Agri Hub has developed an expertise in polyhouses, net houses and mulching, mostly based on technologies developed and being practised in Israel and Germany. With its endeavour to produce a "Wikipedia of Agriculture", the company provides various product offerings under seeds, fertilisers, irrigation, plant-protection, planting material, farm tools and equipment sections. Big Haat has its core interest in seeds, and provides farmers an access to around two dozen brands of healthy and authentic seeds. Delhi-based EM3 is providing the latest agricultural equipment to farmers at a low cost. The company rents out high-end equipment to farmers. Pune-based Agro Star is also providing agri equipment and other inputs to farmers. 

Such companies have done a great job in empowering the farmers to choose agri inputs from a range of national and international brands sitting in their villages. These companies understand that their business success depends upon how much goodwill they earn from farmers and that this needs long-term engagement with their consumers. That is why most of these companies not only sell products, but also facilitate farmers to get expert opinion as and when required. These companies run their business through technology-driven resources like the internet and smartphones. This way, these companies are also helping the country to move towards financial inclusion and digital transformation.

There is another set of companies like Green Digital and SatSure, which are providing unique services to farmers. Digital Green makes small video tutorials featuring successful farmers and shows it to other farmers letting them experience the change in real terms. SatSure aims to create an archive of images taken every eight days for 15 years. After creating the bank, experts in the company will analyse the pictures on various parameters, like crop and ground water. The data will be sold to various government and private agencies to help them carry out their jobs with more precision and accountability. Especially in the case of farm-loss claims under the Prime Minister Crop Insurance Scheme (PMCIS), such data will be of immense help to settle the claims fairly and quickly. Another startup Barixx Ago Sciences offers eco-friendly crop protection methods after much research on products that support organic farming to increase crop produce and quality with minimal expenditure. There are many more on the list. 

These startups have two very clear messages for the world: Indian agriculture is on the cusp of a silent revolution, and agriculture is no longer a business based on primitive agrarian practices. Naturally, supportive government policies with foreign and domestic investments will go a long way in achieving the dreams of agri startups.

— The writer is AVP, NCDEX. Views are personal

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