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How Startup India can bring positive changes in agriculture sector

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By P.D. Rai

In India, many startup companies are actually happening in the organic agriculture space, but little is known of or heard about them.

They have not found space in Vigyan Bhavan during the inauguration of #StartupIndia by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on January 16. Overwhelmingly the glitz of technology-led startups were there for everyone to see. They are the now famous ones in online marketing like Flipkart or those in transportation aggregation like Ola.

This is a fantastic initiative. It has the architecture of giving entrepreneurs the space to do what they do best, creating products and services from ideas and making them work – the startup ecosystem. After making them work, curating them to be able to monetize it, before ramping it up in terms of scale.

This will take away the ‘babu’ or small time bureaucrats who have no clue as to what entrepreneurship is all about impeding the process. They do not even want to understand it. They just want to get in the way. They add friction and costs. All counterproductive.

If I am writing all this, believe me, I have had the opportunity to go down this road myself. But better, I have had the opportunity to listen to thousands of young people who have had to contend with this ‘harassment’. In one sweep our prime minister has gotten rid of this. Thumbs up to that.

Making it easier to register and get loans is the next big thing. Creating a tidy Rs. 10,000 crore ($1.5 billion) fund for startups is also a great initiative. If the ministries all ensure that there is minimum government, then I am sure the #StartupIndia will lift off.

Why should this be limited just to technology-led startups? What we need to do is to connect it to agriculture. Make AgriTech startups cool. This is where the real fun is going to be because India’s teeming millions of young people will have to be part of the food security apparatus. This needs careful handling as there is a message in the startup plan that only tech startups are in. Agro-startups will enhance our ability to grow our food locally and build the largest food basket in the world. Such startups will have the resilience to adapt to the vagaries of weather induced by climate change.

Will NABARD be up to the task? Can it leverage the fundamental momentum that is being given by Prime Minister Modi in solving the key issue of young people leaving their farms and going elsewhere?

Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, played host to an agriculture ministers’ meet which was flagged off by union minister Radha Mohan Singh and Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling. The keynote speech was by Dr. Ramesh Chand, a member of the NITI Aayog. He is a long-time professional in the field of agriculture. What he said was remarkable. How can we make #StartupIndia available to the farming sector? It is not just about giving sops but turning to making farming profitable once again with cheaper input costs.

Critically, technology is available for the farms. Many young and tech background people have found solace and their calling in buying poor and degraded land and making it into vibrant Agri businesses. There are many instances out there. Take, for instance, Lumiere Organic, headed by Manjunath and headquartered in Bangalore. It started with just growing what is now known as organic food and vegetables. It now has a roaring organic food restaurant. Guess who are its main customers? Technology-fatigued souls from Bangalore’s millions working in the hi-tech industries! All looking for the organic balm.

Manjunath wants to source products from far away Sikkim. So what is required? Get young entrepreneurs to do just what Manjunath and many others have done. Young people need to get the space to start and, if need be, fail. This is what entrepreneurship is all about.

Sikkim, under Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, has created a state that is fully organic. Sikkim is the brand; Sikkim needs to be leveraged. Can we now marry Prime Minister Modi’s #StartupIndia with #OrganicSikkim and field 1,000 young entrepreneurs? This is a challenge worth taking. This is a partnership worth exploring.

This perhaps is the opportunity of the decade before us. What it needs is to be able to have a quick mechanism like an incubator in Sikkim to leverage the full potential of #StartupIndia. (IANS)(Photo: http://corporateethos.in)

Next Story

Widespread Agricultural Distress: Hyderabad Social Entrepreneur Uses Big Data To Change Farmers’ Lives

The app, which provides all farming-related information and communication in Telugu on a single platform, is significantly reducing the time and cost of cultivation for a farmer in real time.

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The startup, which can sustain for next six months on its own, is receiving proposals from different investment companies and Naveen says he will go with whoever is close to his idea. Pixabay

At a time of widespread agricultural distress caused by successive droughts, unremunerative farming and debt-trapped rural economies, a young man with his mobile app is showing how change can be brought in the life of farmers at the grassroot level.

In 2016, V. Naveen Kumar, who had no personal knowledge of agriculture, was so moved by the suicide of a farmer in a village in his native Warangal district of Telangana that for the next three months he ran around like a man possessed, meeting farmers to understand their problems. He interacted with agri-entrepreneurs and other stakeholders to find if there is a way he can bring some change in the lives of the financially besieged farmers.

Today, over 1.24 lakh farmers in Telugu-speaking states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh use his mobile app NaPanta to avail a host of services, all free of cost. And this MBA degree holder is satisfied that he is contributing his mite to bring some change in the way they practise agriculture.

NaPanta, which was started in June 2017, saw, surprisingly, thousands of farmers download the app. The launch of the pocket-friendly Reliance Jio and the boom in use of WhatsApp brought more people on the platform.

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While the information on app will clear regular doubts of farmers, for specific doubts a farmer can ask questions to a panel which includes agriculture scientist and experts.
Pixabay

The app, which provides all farming-related information and communication in Telugu on a single platform, is significantly reducing the time and cost of cultivation for a farmer in real time.

“I am confident that if farmers follow my platform, they will be able to save 20 per cent on expenditure and get 10 per cent extra yield. We can make 30 per cent difference,” V. Naveen Kumar, Founder and Managing Director, NaPanta, told IANS.

While the country has many apps to help farmers, there is no single app covering the entire gamut of agriculture activity ranging from selection of crops to locate the market offering highest price for their produce. From advisory services and weather information to market prices and e-commerce, the digital platform offers the comprehensive agri eco-system.

The app has tools like crop expenditure (which helps farmers track their expenses in an organized manner), crop protection, weekly agro advisory, agri forum, market price, agri e-commerce, crop insurance, weather, food processing technologies, and soil testing information.

A farmer can also buy or rent an agri-equipment as per the requirements of his crop cycle and can also sell his produce for the highest price without any middleman.

The app also allows farmers to access real-time and dynamic information pertaining to daily market prices of 300 agri-commodities across over 3,500 markets, along with three-year price trend.

Currently available in Telugu and English, NaPanta App provides complete pest and disease management details, covering 90 crops and with suggestions about 3,000 pesticide products.

Naveen Kumar, who earlier worked as a Credit Relationship Manager in ICICI Bank and later as Credit Risk Manager with HDFC Bank before co-founding apnaloanbazaar.com, a retail loan distribution services portal, says he is trying to build core competence among the farmers.

According to him, for all their requirements, small and marginal farmers depend on third parties like distributors of the companies.

“With no knowledge of agriculture practices and requirements of a particular farmer, they try to push their products for some extra profit and as a result the farmers either suffer crop losses or end up incurring huge expenditure.”

With agriculture extension officers of the government more focused on clerical related activities rather than extending actual help, he believes there is a huge gap between farmers and the government initiated activity.

“Farming is not depending on a single advisory. It is a combination of various services. We identified all that a farmer needs in day to day life and ensured that he has easy access to the advisory so that whenever he gets a doubt, he can get it cleared then and there,” he said.

Naveen said several states including Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu were showing interest in the platform. The app will be available in Hindi and Tamil in June-July this year. “If everything goes well in next 3 to 5 years, we will have our presence in 7-9 states,” said Naveen, who heads a five-member team.

While the information on app will clear regular doubts of farmers, for specific doubts a farmer can ask questions to a panel which includes agriculture scientist and experts.

NaPanta, an incubatee of International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) also gets the institute’s help in business activity, reaching the farmers and engagement with agri-input companies.

farmers

“With no knowledge of agriculture practices and requirements of a particular farmer, they try to push their products for some extra profit and as a result the farmers either suffer crop losses or end up incurring huge expenditure.” Pixabay

The startup, which can sustain for next six months on its own, is receiving proposals from different investment companies and Naveen says he will go with whoever is close to his idea.

With huge amount of data being generated on the digital platform, Naveen embarked on building big-data architecture with crowd-sourcing information. It is building database with information on major crops in a particular area, major insects which affect a crop, cropping system, sequential cropping model, pesticides and where the farmers sell their produce.

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He is confident that this data will be a goldmine in the coming years.

“This kind of crowd-sourcing information is not available in the agriculture sector in India. We are getting information from actual farmers and not third parties.” (IANS)