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Improving Supply Is A Key Area For Agritech Start-ups
“Doorstop delivery when roads were blocked, with the strictest police patrolling, was a boon to farmers. Some of the rigorous lockdown months also overlapped with the peak harvest season; it was a do or die situation for farmers,“ says Taranbir Singgh, Co-founder of Faarms, delving on the opportunities for agritech in India
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Tech was the omnipresent word last year. How did it impact the agritech start-up space?
Taranbir Singh: Once relegated to the background from being the main source of income, agriculture in the last few years has been once again brought back to the mainstream. A start-up is important as it brings the latest innovations, new employments, and competitive effectiveness into the business environment. An aspect of start-up companies is that they initially test different business models to find the best possible fit for the market. The sector has been growing at a fast pace owing to a rise in the number of emerging agritech start-ups and investments, showcasing interest in the Indian agritech start-up scene globally.
The agritech sector has made way for several market opportunities in India, especially in developing and refining market linkages. These developments include taking farmer products directly to consumers, digitizing agriculture, improving accessibility to real-time information for farmers, increasing transparency across the value chain, providing better-quality implements to farmers to increase yields, and offering micro-financing options to farmers to manage risks. All these solutions indicate that improving the supply chain is a key focus area for agritech start-ups, with the underlying goal of increasing farmer share in profits from crop sales.
Many of the start-ups in fact played a very critical role during the lockdown period. Faarms for instance made essential farming supplies available to farmers in the remotest of locations in Rajasthan, UP, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Gujrat. The doorstop delivery when roads were blocked, police patrolling was the strictest, was a boon to the farmers. Some of the rigorous lockdown months also happened to overlap the peak harvest season so it was a do-or-die situation for the farmers.
Why are there only a few start-ups that may turn unicorns in this space?
Alok Duggal: The young urban who are mostly the ones in the start-up space, have lost touch with agriculture over the years. They might have had some of their ancestors in the field but they have all moved away from agriculture into tech and other businesses in the cities. As a result, their knowledge about challenges, what is required, how things work on-ground is very low. Hence even if there is interest it is an intimidating space for them Having said this, I must add that the handful of brands that are there are doing exceptionally well which have been recognised by not just the investor community but by the government as well. It would be wrong to say that in the next 10 years or even earlier we would see unicorns from this space.
How can this issue be addressed?
Alok Duggal: We think things are changing. Slowly but surely. Seeing the first movers, there are a lot of others getting involved, bringing in their tech knowledge, knowledge of climatology, their out-of-the-box thinking, to create a difference in the fields. Since agritech has just got attention in the last three to four years, we have to wait for 8-10 years to see a real impact on-ground. It is so encouraging to see that people from all sectors are coming forward and experimenting with various business models in this space.
What do you think about the government support available for agri start-ups?
Taranbir Singh: Both the center and the state governments have designed schemes to help the Krishi through various Project Implementation Partnership models with various start-ups to serve the farmer community. In June 2020, the Indian government amended its National e-Governance Plan in Agriculture (NeGPA) to extend support to the State Governments for pilots involving the use of these new technologies. Another major initiative that has been recently started is the engagement of leading agritech, agriculture, and start-ups for building proof of concepts. At Faarms, we are also working closely with Central and State governments in various pilot projects across various states which would be converted into large initiatives once findings come to the table.
What is your post lockdown prediction for the agritech sector?
Taranbir Singh: This is one sector that was fully active throughout the pandemic as food and all allied industry is the backbone of our economy. As the market opens up, the agritech sector is only going to grow faster in terms of both technologies as well distribution. Overall, the Indian agritech sector has huge untapped potential. Agritech seems to have reached that inflection point where it is gaining significant momentum among venture capitalists and government grants. Agriculture is an important industry in India’s economy and start-ups are playing a pivotal role in easing the burden on farmers by digitizing the entire supply chain with the use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, big data analytics, and engineering innovations. The transparency and operational efficiencies that are being introduced and implemented are fast transforming India’s agricultural landscape.
How do you plan to escalate Faarms in the next five years?
Alok Duggal: Faarms is the only end-to-end e-commerce platform specially designed for the farming community and hence it is unique. It not only helps farmers to order directly from 2500+ certified branded products but also gets the products delivered at their doorsteps in the absolute interior parts of the villages. We are currently in 30,000+ villages of Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, West UP, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan & Gujrat and aim to reach 1 lakh villages by end of 2021, thus working towards making Faarms a national brand.
We aim to make it the one-stop shop for all farming inputs and knowledge for farmers across the country. We are working with renowned agricultural universities, various farming equipment and produce sellers, global farming input sellers to provide easy access to every need of a farmer.