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“The time for agritech businesses to flourish is here”- Amith Agarwal, Co-founder and CEO, Agribazaar

Amith Agarwal, Co-Founder & CEO, agribazaar.com speaks to Urvi Shrivastav, Editorial BW Businessworld about the future of agri-tech start-ups, their unicorn potential, technology adoption, and their future post Covid.

Photo Credit : ShutterStock

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How has the agritech startup space evolved in the last one year?  

Tech-intervention and innovations by agri-tech companies can solve the probl em of not only yield but procurement and fasten the entire agri-supply chain. The sector performance during COVID-19 proved its mettle:

Agri e-tailers handheld farmers through vulnerable times. At www.agribazaar.com, we have transformed the physical mandi to an (electronic) e-mandi available at the touch of a button on every farmer’s mobile phone. On our app, the farmer can on his mobile decide on buyers, get payments and also avail crop advisory and agri-finance. We also helped them by working with local authorities to get logistics permission.

· The innovation and quick scalability demonstrated by agritech startups enabled efficient last-mile linkages across the agri-ecosystem During COVID19, Agribazaar handled volumes of a full year with no disruptions and no additional manpower. We facilitated the transport of agri-produce of over 5,000 trucks even to far-off places like Lakshadweep. From grape farmers in Baramati to apple growers in Kashmir to cultivators in states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab & Haryana and others, the response during this lockdown has been encouraging.

· End-to-end value addition:   Today, there are many agritech start-ups which cater to specific pre-harvest and post-harvest challenges of agriculture. Agribazaar is the only firms which provides an end-to-end support through its integrated network of professionals, businesses and FPOs. Currently, agribazaar provides certain value-added offerings like finance, logistics, storage, crop advisory, etc. to its customers along with electronic trading. We’ve consciously evolved as platform that partners with farmer members, including FPO’s as a single point of contact for all their agri-needs.

· Creating an eco-system of economic opportunities: Agribazaar is looking at appointing 10,000 agri micropreneurs (AE) across the 300 districts in India. The person will act as a one-stop resource for all agricultural needs of the small farmers, and once the produce is ready, will help them sell on www.agribazaar.com. Each person will be responsible for a group/batch of 150-250 farmers either in a single village or a cluster of 2/3 nearby villages. The company has developed an online training module for onboarding the AE with a clear understanding of his role and responsibilities. A company tele-help desk is available for him to call and discuss any problems. Regular training and updates about the app are available.

 Why are there such few big startups which may turn unicorn in this space?

I believe that every industry and business have the right time to thrive. And I also see that the time for agritech businesses to flourish is here. There are several reasons for this belief:

· The pandemic helped demonstrate the resilience and dependability of agritech businesses. These factors helped in establishing trust in these institutions among the end-users i.e. the farmers.

· The success of the Zomato IPO shows the readiness of Indian bourses to accept local internet and tech companies with the same enthusiasm as traditional companies like manufacturing, FMCG, etc

· The growth momentum of agritech industry will be accelerated by a conducive environment facilitated by the policymakers and government with a agri-digital push.

Given these factors, I think, an agritech unicorn will be a reality in the near future.

How can this issue be addressed? 

In my assessment, a variety of factors are fostering the acceleration of India’s agritech industry:

• There has been an increased application of technology in the agri-sector even for the small farm holder. Alongside mechanization, predictive technology will change the way forward for the Indian farmer and how he handles pre and post-harvest produce.

• Digitization of the entire agri-supply chain is gathering pace as also increased automation, adoption of blockchain technology, ML and AI.

• Consumers will demand more of health foods / healthy foods and safety will become priority. I see sanitized food delivery picking up and consumers ready to pay extra. Over the long term, traceability of the produce will become a key demand of every consumer both for individual and large buyers.

• The government’s focus on aggregation points will help young Indian startups, private players and agri-preneurs to build digital and agri-tech driven platforms and solutions so that the small farmer can sell his produce with minimum hassle and maximum profits. Alongside farmgate infrastructure, which will be the hardware, aggregators will provide the software to drive efficiency both in terms of price and wastage losses.

With the introduction of the Farm Bills, I believe that Indian agritech startups will deliver on the ‘Farm In India’ alongside ‘Make In India’ to help the country become self-reliant in its food security needs and empowering small Indian farm-owners in their socio-economic upliftment.

What do you think about the government support available for agri startups?  

Besides the various initiatives the government has undertaken to support start-ups, I really appreciate the support they extend in terms of partnership to young and upcoming organisations such as ours. The government is also unafraid to seek help of expert organisations to support the upliftment of marginalised communities.

Our MoU with the Department of Agriculture, Government of India to build & promote Digital Agricultural Platform (DAP) among Indian farmers is a good example in this context. DAP will enable and empower the Indian farmer to approach farming in an integrated manner, with a single source enabling agri-tech platform. As a part of this collaboration, Agribazaar will leverage its world-class technological capabilities to create standardized, verified data for Agristack, profile agricultural land, develop a generalized advisory platform, enable access to an integrated farmer marketplace for the broader stakeholder ecosystem & facilitate better access to financial services for farmers. The Union Ministry of Agriculture will provide sourcing assistance, resources, information, data sets & cooperation from local authorities/state governments/government institutions.

Likewise, Agribazaar’s recent MoU with Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC) to provide e-auction and sales facilitation services for the agri-commodities stored at the latter’s warehouses across the country, is another example of our collaboration with the government.

Both the partnerships are in line with the government's aim to foster greater digitalisation in agriculture. I believe that such collaborations will be key to the nation’s prosperity in the years to come.

What is your post lockdown prediction for agritech industry? 

Covid-19 has given a fillip to technology usage across sectors. Physical mandis run by the Agricultural produce market committee (APMC) were closed following the lockdown. This closure did affect the agri-supply chain initially. However, the disruption was swiftly minimized as the government allowed the purchase of agriculture produce on e-Nam portals and private agri-trading platforms. During the lockdown, the E-nam portal has been able to bring together almost 1000 mandis on an all India basis; this was further supported by private e-mandis like ours. These efforts ensured that there was no food shortage during the lockdown period, and at the same time, the spread of the pandemic was curbed.

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the relevance and resilience of e-agri-supply chains. Digital adoption amongst farmers has increased manifold, with our app agribazaar.com registering an increase of 400% in downloads and registrations. We have waived off our registration fee on the platform during COVID times.

How do you plan to escalate Agribazar in the upcoming 5 years? 

We aspire to become India’s largest e-mandi (online agri-marketplace) and replicate it across global markets. At Agribazaar, we believe disruptive models of agri-aggregation are required to meet the opportunities and challenges of modern agriculture. It is why our platform leverages cutting-edge AI for agri-value chain optimization, resulting in increased yields and higher profit for small farm owners. We’re doing what others don’t, putting the power in small farm owners’ hands with technology.

Today, we have three areas of focus

· Apply world-class open source technology stack and know-how to transform the agri value chain through meaningful yet practical and affordable digital interventions

· Empower the small farmer by focussing on novel solutions for his unmet needs

· Build partnerships with governments, farmer collectives; corporate buyers to enable the widest possible access to our platform.

Recently, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare (DAC&FW), Union Ministry of Agriculture to promote digital agriculture in rural India with a scientific approach. The Digital Agricultural Platform (DAP) will enable and empower the Indian farmer to approach farming in an integrated manner, with a single source enabling agri-tech platform.



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