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Government's role in accelerating Agtech. Roundtable discussion by Nasscom and ICFA

NASSCOM and ICFA partnered to organise a roundtable to bring multiple central agencies and state governments together for a discussion with the technology sector. The meeting was attended by representatives from DIPP, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of IT, NITI Ayog, NABARD, Maharashtra State Innovation Society, Govt of Kerala, Bangalore Bio Innovation Center, AP Innovation Society, National E-Governance Division and Digital India Corporation. On the technology side, the table comprised of startups, large IT companies and funders.

I understand the readers will be interested in what the governments and state agencies said, let me focus on the most notable ones. I am not going to give names here as model code of conduct had kicked in by the time of the meeting.

Ministry of agriculture highlighted the need for robust database of farmers’ data. Startups were asked to provide solutions in logistics, food processing companies, ensuring development of cold chains and storage facilities.

Ministry of IT talked about digital infrastructure and about Soil Health Card, M-Kisan, and E-nam. They talked extensively about scheme TIDE- Technology Incubation and Development of Entrepreneurs. In first phase, 27 TIDE centers had been set up with 7 focus areas, agriculture was one. In second phase, 51 centers are to be set up to promote 2000+ startups. They also talked about the app developed by Digital India Corporation under MEITY called mAgri.

NABARD reiterated the importance of working with FPOs vis a vis working directly with farmers. They also talked about NABventures which is the funds of fund NABARD IS doing and lending it to startups working in agriculture and rural sector. NABARD has setup 2 incubation centers – Haryana Agriculture University and Tamil Nadu with investment of 12 crores each.

Maharashtra State Innovation Society (MSIS) talked about the grand challenge where they find projects in different ministries that startups can work on. Satsure won this year and has been given a work order worth 15 lakhs. MSIS is also working on policies so that they can give some money to startups in advance.

Bangalore Bio Innovation Center explained how Karnataka is going against conventional logic and working as a VC fund. AP Innovation Society talked about two of their programs - SOCH (Sunrise Open Challenge Hackathon) and Farm-to-Fork accelerator program called Fortissimo. Andhra also stated they are taking up policies where the initial seed funds can be given as grant fund.

Space constraint does not permit me to talk about the discussions from technology side in this piece. Hemendra Mathur talked about the need for a catalytic fund. Amardeep Sibia talked about difficulty in bank guarantee for getting advance money. Sachin Nandanwa pointed out how every district reads regulations in input policy differently and how India Post could do much better when it comes to agri input deliveries. Kunal Prasad stressed the need for government to engage startups in bigger projects and also to make agri data available.

In the end, a few action points were discussed. NASSCOM will work with central and state governments so that all schemes and benefits to tech companies are easily known. The tech participants will propose data that needs to be digitized along with notes on how it will benefit and what can be the outcomes of that effort by the government. Kerala and Andhra Pradesh also agreed to set up Agritech Facilitation/Experience Centers that will act as demonstration/sales centers and work as hubs for agritech in the state. We will now work with individual states to develop favourable ecosystems there.

Om Routray leads the Community and agritech initiatives at NASSCOM. His keen interest in bringing forth the social impact that technology can create, pushed him to establish NASSCOM’s initiative in agritech. His current responsibilities include creating a knowledge sharing platform for the Indian technology sector; build alliances and explore opportunities for the agritech sector.

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