As part of the YES Bank Transformation Series, YourStory moderated a panel discussion on innovation in India’s agricultural sector, held recently in New Delhi. The discussion covered topics such as agri-tech trends, emerging innovations, policy changes, and recommendations for aspiring entrepreneurs in India. We look forward to more such forums and competitions for engaging with agri-tech entrepreneurs.
The event featured the culmination of an agri-tech startup competition, keynote addresses on innovation in India, and a panel on Agri-Tech: Making India a Smart Agri Nation.
Speakers and panelists included Ramanathan Ramanan, Mission Director, Atal Innovation Mission, NITI Aayog; Ashok Chawla, Non-Executive Independent Chairman, YES Bank; Raju Kapoor, Head, Corporate Affairs, Dow AgroSciences India; Hemendra Mathur, Venture Partner, Bharat Innovations; Nitin Puri, Senior President, Food and Agribusiness Strategic Advisory and Research, YES Bank; Amardeep Sibia, CEO, SatSure; and Warren Patrick, Senior President and Chief Learning Officer, Human Capital Management, YES Bank.
Here are five key takeaways from the evening;
- Entrepreneurship in agriculture
An interesting trend to watch is the rise of agri-entrepreneurship even among people without a background in agriculture, such as techies and corporate managers, along with social entrepreneurs and NGOs.
India’s digital boom is powering startups with an agri-tech flavor. There is more interest now in agriculture startups as compared to even five or ten years ago. More agri-tech competitions, awards and investors are emerging. India’s demographic dividend can also attract new youth segments to the agricultural sector. There is more cross-fertilisation of ideas between the west and India, and across India as well. At the same time, some key challenges in increasing productivity and impact of agricultural labour still remain.
- Agri-tech trends
Discussions ranged around a number of trends shaping the sector. One being how emerging problems such as the pollution in Delhi can lead to innovative suggestions, such as converting crop stubble into pellets and using them as fuel elsewhere. Others included using imaging and scanning technology to help sort and cluster vegetables such as potatoes in trucks for quality ratings; using spectrometer technology to identify purity levels of cooking oils, and employing data-driven analytics to help understand and predict patterns in farm yield.
Smartphones are helping improve workflow of farms and dairies. New pay-per-use business models and innovation stacks are emerging both at the stage of farm productivity as well as market access. Solar and alternate energy grids are boosting farmer security and productivity. Public-private-people partnerships are emerging, and need to help move India beyond the ‘perpetual pilot syndrome’ stage. The conclusion was that successful initiatives need to be connected, replicated and scaled.
- Policy change
Unfortunately, a majority of policy and pricing decisions in India are politically driven, without sufficient market validity. For instance, setting the price of onions and sugar, and promising ‘free’ electricity for farmers. There is a need for more transparency and dialogue on the part of the government. Making false and unsustainable promises can be detrimental in the long run.
It is one thing to set lofty targets and visions (for example double farmers’ income by 2022), but another thing to bring things down to the trenches of agriculture. What entrepreneurs want is a policy that goes beyond restrictions or subsidies to stimulate and enable agriculture. Open data stipulations are a promising direction to boost the farming data stack.
- Banks can also be knowledge banks
Creativity applies not just to the arts but also to business, technology and finance. Banks and other financial institutions can transform themselves from simply being ‘money experts’ to also acting as knowledge banks with respect to understanding, shaping, and enabling new business models for entrepreneurs in critical sectors. Venture capitalists, PE firms, and angel investors can team up with incubators, accelerators and corporates to grow the knowledge base and mentorship networks for entrepreneurs.
- Recommendations for agri-preneurs
The agricultural sector is a core sector for the Indian economy, and is now shedding its rustic persona to emerge as a trendy place to be in. The grand noble vision could be to better feed not just India but all of humanity.
This is a great time to integrate different domains of knowledge and skills. Agri-tech entrepreneurs can go beyond incremental change to truly effect exponential change, and transform the agricultural sector while also giving back to society. Successful agri-preneurs in India can also take their innovations global. The world is watching as India works to overcome its problems through innovation.
The event ended with an awards ceremony for the three agri-tech winners from 15 finalist teams, with participation from around 2,500 colleges across India. The first prize went to the team from IIM Shillong (Rs 5 lakh for the smart soil sensor proposal), and the second prize was bagged by IIM Bangalore (Rs 3 lakh for a solar-powered drip technology proposal). The third prize went to ISB Hyderabad (Rs 2 lakh for IoT-based SIM-enabled farm data sensors).
The jury included Ramanathan Ramanan (Atal Innovation Mission), Aditya Khanna (ART Corporate Finance), Atul Dhawan (Deloitte India), Deepti Dutt (Microsoft), Nandita Mathur (LiveMint), Nikhil Rungta (Intuit India), Satyavati Berera (PwC India), Sudhanshu Mittal (NASSCOM), Seema Kumar (IBM India), and Varsha Tagare (Qualcomm Ventures). YES Bank’s other agri-entrepreneur initiatives are the Agri Udaan Accelerator, Food Processing Startup Awards (at World Food India), and Future Agri-Tech Summit.