Involvement of all agriculture stakeholders in India
Agri Business Op-ed

Transforming Indian Agriculture ecosystem by integrating all stakeholders

Recent advances in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has generated renewed promise to transform agriculture. Indeed, Digital Agriculture including Smart & Precision Farming holds great potential to revolutionize agriculture. Various stakeholders viz., public sector (crop improvement research), private firms (input supply) and non-for profits (organizing farmers) offer an array of products and solutions. However, these are piecemeal and not integrated (from a farmer’s perspective) when viewed from a “seed to plate” or “farm to fork”  spectrum.  There is therefore, a dire need to create and enable an ecosystem that effectively addresses the gap and ensure a pathway of progress especially for smallholders. This article outlines a suggested framework with specific stakeholder involvement as a teaser.

Various stakeholders viz., public sector (crop improvement research), private firms (input supply) and non-for profits (organizing farmers) offer an array of products and solutions. However, these are piecemeal and not integrated.

PROPOSED ECOSYTEM FRAMEWORK

Any leading ICAR-SAU or NFP or CGIAR institutes can anchor and lead to develop this overaching framework.  Deep involvement with & understanding of  various stakeholders in agriculture, is needed for the anchor organization to shape an integrated framework to transform agriculture. 

The overarching objective would be to bring all stakeholders & solution providers under one umbrella to demonstrate the potency of science & technology straddling molecular biology to precision farming.

From a farmer’s lens, it starts with two critical resources: Soil & Water. Both need to be tested for their health and crop choice. While the public sector (read state governments and public sector research institutes like ICAR & SAU’s) is the dominant player, yet the services are slow, inefficient and far-flung. Hence, a portable device to instantly test soil & water health is the need of the hour. IBM’s Agropad  and Orbit’s Orlab are leading private players.

Crop choice is by & large individual farmer’s discretion. However, most smallholders do not base their decision on market intelligence (read historical demand & supply patterns and price trends). This is the most critical decision that impacts all production, processing and marketing related decision by the farmer. Currently, there is a huge void in this space. The challenge is to collate & analyze macro level data sources over time and provide micro level recommendations. 

Once crop is decided, subsequently;  inputs (seed, fertilizers, pesticides & insecticides, machinery) and agronomic practices dominate the spectrum till harvest. Inter alia, access to quality seeds are key determinants of yield. While the private sector dominates commercial crops, the public sector continues to lead when it comes to basic research and non-commercial crops. Again, here the key is access to right information (source of availability of quality seeds especially from the public sector). The public sector should ensure access to quality seeds at reasonable costs in partnership with the private sector (especially sales & marketing). Hence a PPP mode is most desirable.  In other words, leading players like State Seed Corporations, ICAR-SAU-KVK, ICRISAT-IRRI-WVC, Mahyco, Indo-American, Bayer, Syngenta etc need to come together to form a “consortium” to supplement and complement each other.

Weather:  Is an uncontrollable but a key determinant of farming. Information pertaining to rainfall, temperature, humidity etc has a significant impact on yield. While the public sector dominates the space, yet the information is macro in nature and hence not that relevant to an individual farmers. Therefore, micro-climate prediction and information is most useful. Firms like aWhere, BKC Weathersys, Expressweather, Skymet and WeatherRisk are major players.

Irrigation management is another key practice given increasing water scarcity. Optimization of water use on the farm is no longer going to be a choice going forward but a necessity. Private players continue to dominate the space, However, they need to constantly innovate and reduce costs. Netafim, Rain Bird , Jain Irrigation and Flybird Innovations are leading players.

Agronomic advice (aka package of practices):  Scientific cultivation practices is the single most important determinant of productivity. While the state has faltered in this fundament obligation to farmers, the private sector offers promise & respite. Firms like Agrostar, Bushel, Global AgriSystem, AgWorld etc are leading the way.

Protected cultivation : Is a sure shot route to control production and increase productivity, Solutions vary from low cost shade nets to high end automated green houses. Companies like RPC, Agriplast Ginegar, Lumite Inc. and Central Worldwide etc are leading global players.

Solar Applications : Assured all- round power supply is critical to sustainable & profitable farming. Solar energy is a potent solution be it for powering irrigation pumpsets, drip / sprinkler, fencing, protected cultivation, post- harvest processing like drying etc.  Firms like SolSolutions, Soliculture, Solipower, Aveon Technologies, Lorentz, Tata Power etc are leading the way.

Digital Agriculture :In the recent past advances in ICT’s including smart & precision farming driven by Big Data analytics and connected intelligence (IoT) has made digital agriculture a reality.  

At the core is Data capture, analysis and real time recommendations – be it weather, soil, moisture, crop related – biotic and abiotic factors. Companies like AgroNet, Fasal. Proagrica, Farmobile, CropX, K2 etc    

Other Agricultural Service Providers: The next-gen set of players address issues pertaining to supply side and demand side aggregation. Firms of interest being Aibono, CroFarm, Agrowave, Ninjacart, Cropin Gold Farm etc.

Involvement of all agriculture  stakeholders in India

ROLE PLAY & FUTURE STEPS

The anchor organisation will enable the experiment i.e. manage the program & coordinate with all stakeholders. 

While anchor organisation will come to the table with a set of resources like research infrastructure  and agricultural scientists (agronomists, breeders, crop physiologists and economists), we expect other key stakeholders (read ICAR, American Embassy, USDA, ACIAR, ECA, FAO, CGIAR) to help bring all relevant players together in an integrated framework.

The anchor organization will set up a model integrated digital farm in an ecosystem mode with all stakeholders / players – public & private with an objective to demonstrate and disseminate the latest advancements in crop science & associated technologies.

We believe such an integrated ecosystem is a pathway of prosperity for smallholders.This will help farm smarter, improve farm’s productivity and increase earnings in a sustainable manner. This design can be further chiselled leading to transformative agriculture.

Author,  Ravi Shankar, Ph.D. , Had over 23 years of academic & corporate experience spanning US and India straddling multiple verticals, Shankar has diverse but rich experience by of analytics led consulting in blue-chip firms like American Express, Blackstone, Dell, GE & Sutherland Global. He has also advised a slew of start up’s in the analytics space which have scaled up successfully.  In his last role, he was a Director with PwC (US Advisory) on all matters pertaining to Big Data Analytics. Shankar also serves few NFP’s as a mentor-advisor in the rural distress space focusing on smallholder sustainability & digital agriculture. His current interest areas are in the realm of Deep Learning and Hadoop Ecosystem.