Such a scenario may not be too far away, given the advent of the 5G mobile communication standard and artificial intelligence-enabled Internet of Things, which agritech startups are using to provide solutions to farmers and bring business and scale to agriculture in India.
Such agritech startups are set to play a dominant role in disseminating information to farmers and maximising their profits in the near future, experts predict. However, growth in this sector will be spurred only with a strong financial inclusion policy, faster data penetration and more government support in terms of funding, industry officials said.
Still, there is potential, as reflected in the mushrooming of agritech startups.
Smartbell, an animal health monitoring solutions company founded by Veena Adityan and Jose Chitty, has developed sensors that can be mounted on collars or ears to monitor the movement and location of cattle and their health.
About 70% of the cattle in India are affected by preventable diseases, said the UK-based company. Smartbell’s devices can also be connected to large cooperative dairy producers and cattle insurance companies. Duke of Yorkfounded Pitch@Palace is an investor in Smartbell.
Many startups in the remote agri -service business were perhaps inspired by the government’s DigiGaon campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which aims to digitally connect every village and educate every rural citizen about the significance of Digital India.
“We will create a white paper on the impact of connectivity on modern villages… we will also dive deep into some case studies for the same. This is also a part of the DigiGaon initiative,” said Avijith Dutta, managing partner at TenX2, a startup advisory company in Hong Kong that focuses on consulting and leveraging partnerships.
While some states have established progressive policies, there’s still a long way to go, said Kunal Prasad, cofounder of Cropin, an agritech startup that provides software solutions to agribusinesses globally.
“From financial policies to data policies to incubation policies, there’s a lot more support that is needed from the government. Apart from this, connectivity remains a hurdle, especially in small and remote landholdings, where intervention is needed the most,” Prasad said.
Cropin, backed by Chiratae Ventures and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Strategic Investment Fund, has raised $12 million so far.
Whirlybird, a Maharashtra-based startup, works on curbing post-harvest losses. It provides farm management solutions and soil and meteorological sensing as well as real-time and customised farmer advisory services.
A report by Down to Earth magazine pointed out that Indian farmers incur Rs 92,651 crore in post-harvest losses annually, the primary causes of which are poor storage and transportation facilities.
Niruthi Climate and Ecosystem Services uses data analytics to provide weather information and predict crop yields and facilitates the procurement of yield-based crop insurance schemes to farmers.
“Remote services like crop insurance have a market share of Rs 180 crore in India today and this is expected to become Rs 600 crore,” said Mallikarjun Kukunuri, CEO of Niruthi, based in Hyderabad.
While IoT and 5G can make a big difference, some fundamental issues remain, said Hemant Joshi, technology, media and telecommunications expert at Deloitte India.
“There are technologies to solve some issues, but fundamental problems in agriculture like availability of water and subsidy-based sustainability models are to be resolved,” Joshi said.
Apart from using technology in agriculture, the focus needs to agri-related markets as well, Joshi said, citing the example of supply chains.
“There is a huge potential for tech startups there,” he said.
Apart from standardisation in connectivity, another challenge is the huge capital expenditure needed to set up the infrastructure to support digital services, Dutta of Tenx2 said.
“Who will bear capex in agritech sector as connectivity towers, farm sensors or solar panels have costs of deployment? While the farmer or enterprises want it as service on an opex basis, there is the hurdle of the cost of initial deployment of the technology to deal with first,” he said.
There’s been quite a shift in the mindset of farmers, who are more receptive to the idea of using technology now, especially as they have more disposable income to invest in improvements, said Prasad of Cropin. However, in many parts of the country, a lack of acceptance of techbased solutions remains a challenge, especially since over 80% of the farmers are small and marginal, he said.