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Seeding A Data Revolution In Indian Agriculture

The Indian agriculture sector will also encompass farm-to-fork in the future by paving the way for a single national market with a national platform with the better connection between producers and consumers

Greater effort is needed to improve the capacity of Indian farmers. This can be done through FPOs and other farmers’ associations where technical assistance is available to farmers, capacity building of individual farmers or by setting up a support system to meet the new situation

INDIA is going through a vast agricultural revolution and, when it comes to seeds; Indian farmers understand the difference between high quality and high volume. Recently, two significant documents relating to the Indian agriculture sector were released.

The first is a consultation paper on ‘India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture’ (IDEA) from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare (MoA&FW), while the second is on ‘Indian Agriculture: Ripe for Disruption’ from Bain & Company, a private organization. Both the papers talk about using digital technology to help farmers and support their livelihoods.

The first talks about digital revolution in the agriculture sector, while the latter predicts a revolutionary investment growth in agri-logistics, off-take and agri-input distribution by 2025; these are, surprisingly, highly complementary. The truth is that every section of today’s life is data-hungry. The MoA&FW paper describes creating data to drive growth predicted by the Bain & Co. report.

Key takeaways:

Ø These reports, in short, argue that benefiting from the huge investments in the agri-ecosystem can help achieve double farmers’ income targets in the near future

Ø The Indian agriculture sector will also encompass farm-to-fork in the future by paving the way for a single national market with a national platform with the better connection between producers and consumers

The forecast

The Bain report is basically a data-based forecast on agri-business scenarios anchored to the agricultural set-up at present while predicting its future trajectory over the next 20 years. This includes targeting the production of alternative proteins, and the production of edible cell-based food/materials, as well as introducing ocean farming. The report not only has a ‘forward-to-future outlook today’, but also forecasts huge investment opportunity growth by 2025. The agriculture sector (currently worth $370 billion), is expected to receive an additional $35 billion in investment.

Two enabling conditions for such investment opportunities are changes in the regulatory framework, particularly the recent changes in the Farm Acts, and digital disruption.

Issues with the reports

Ø The Bain report has not been widely discussed—at least not in the public domain

Ø The assumptions used by authors, especially for its ‘future-back approach’, need more focus on widespread food production in controlled environments

Ø The emission, energy, and other resource footprints and sustainability issues around these techniques are not adequately studied

Ø The reports have not addressed the capacity-building required at a farmer’s end

Idea of integration

Ø Digital disruption: The blueprint of ‘digital agriculture is similar to the digital disruption mentioned in the Bain report

Ø Integration: Eventually, the farmer and the improvement of farmers’ livelihood is the aim of the IDEA concept and it is proposed to happen through tight integration of agri-tech innovation and the agriculture industry

Ø Enabling conditions: To be precise, the IDEA concept profounds the creation of second enabling conditions (which is described in the Bain report)

Ø Openness of data: The IDEA principles explicitly talk about openness of data, which means open to businesses and farmers, indicating the kind of integration it aims at

Ø Value-added services: Better and innovative services by agri-tech industries and start-ups are an integral part of the IDEA architecture

Ø Data architecture: The services listed in the document (to be available on the platform) are equally important data for farmers and businesses

Conclusion: Focus on farmers

Agreeing with the fact that data revolution in the agriculture sector is inevitable, given its socio-political complexities, we cannot rely solely on technology improvements and agri-business investments to improve farmers’ livelihoods. Greater effort is needed to improve the capacity of farmers in India—at least until educated young farmers replace the existing under-educated small and medium farmers. This capacity-building can be done through a mixed approach—through FPOs and other farmers’ associations where technical assistance is available to farmers, capacity building of individual farmers, or by setting up a support system to meet the new situation. Considering the size of the country’s agricultural sector, this is not going to be an easy task but would require a different program with considerable investments across the nation.

Source: Business World

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