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ThinkAg's Hyderabad EcosystemConnect- AgFoodTech; 23rd August 2022

After a gap of more than 2 years, ThinkAg hosted a physical event- Hyderabad EcosystemConnect: AgFoodTech at Hyderabad on 23rd Aug. The invite-only event had a get-together of representatives from the Govt, Public Sector, Ag & Food Corporates, Startups, Investors, Incubators, etc.

The event witnessed- i) Message from Special Guest- Praveen Rao Velchala, Director, AgHub - Agri-Innovation Hub of PJTSAU; ii) 'Experience sharing' (anchored by Hemendra Mathur, Co-Founder, ThinkAg) by 2 startups viz. Hesa & Marut Drones, represented by the founders Vamsi Udayagiri & Prem Kumar Vislawath respectively; ii) Message from Guest of Honour Sri M. Raghunandan Rao, IAS, Principal Secretary, Agriculture & Cooperation Department, Govt of Telangana, iii) A panel discussion- “How to develop the ecosystem for Food & Ag Innovation & Entrepreneurship?" among Suresh Chitturi, Chairman International Egg Commission & VC & MD, Srinivasa Farms, Sivakumar S, Group Head- Agri & IT Businesses, ITC Limited, Ajit Rangnekar, DG, Research and Innovation Circle of Hyderabad, Ajay Kalavala, Co-Founder & CEO, iConcept Software Services Pvt. Ltd., & Bala Reddy. V, Founder & CEO, Our Food, and moderated by Ram Kaundinya, Co-Founder, ThinkAg; iv) Message from Chief Guest Jayesh Ranjan, IAS, Principal Secretary, Industries & Commerce & IT, Govt of Telangana. Raman Ahuja, Co-Founder, ThinkAg offered the welcome remarks and anchored the event, while Ritu Verma, another Co-Founder, ThinkAg offered the Closing Remarks and Vote of Thanks.

The below points emerged from the talks of the distinguished guests, startups, and the panel discussion.

Indian agriculture scenario

- There is no parallel success story to the Indian agriculture scenario anywhere in the world.

- About 950 million tonnes of agriculture commodities are produced today, including foodgrains, pulses and cereals, fruits and vegetables

- India exports 20 million tonnes of rice, which is equivalent to 60 trillion litres of water.

Challenges of technology in agriculture

- The biggest challenge is the gap between policy and practice. For instance, if you are using drones in agriculture to spray chemicals on paddy, details like what is the spray volume, what is the height from which it has to be sprayed, what is the speed, etc. need to be understood.

- Integration of various aspects of technology are lacking. Data storage and cyber security are major issues and challenges. Ultimately, the primary purpose of technology is to help farmers.

- There are well-defined templates in employing technology in other sectors; something similar of which is needed for agriculture.

- The next big revolution in agriculture is going to be the digital revolution. There is need for validation and creation of success stories and impact assessment.

- All these will have to be addressed, until then it will be difficult to scale up AgTech.

- Covid is a key driver that has accelerated the understanding and need for digital tools.

Experiences of start-ups in the AgTech space

- The rural market is an entirely different market; solutions have to be tailormade for it.

- People in villages have to travel a lot to get anything, be it products or services. Anything and everything that a person in a village needs has to be aggregated.

- Online usage is much lower than in urban areas, but people are willing to adapt if they see benefits.

- The biggest challenge for a farmer is a guaranteed purchase and price.

- Creating a pool of micro-entrepreneurs in villages is important for the success of any business model.

- The benefits of using technology such as drones have to be clearly demonstrated to farmers. The benefits have to be quantified in terms of reduction in water use, lesser time taken to spray fertilisers and chemicals, improved crop monitoring, better crop health, cut in production cost, higher productivity and yield, all leading to better prices.

- Drones should have more than one use case and not just restricted to one activity.

- For AgTech to scale, it is important to build partnerships at the local level.

- Usually AgTech is seen as a means to increase farmers’ income, but what is being missed is that AgTech is an opportunity to create rural jobs and rural entrepreneurship.

- Digitising land records go a long way in establishing ownership. The next step is for geospatial mapping of farm lands. This will help in farmers being able to remotely identify their lands, enabling better credit flow, easy monitoring of crops.

Developing the AgTech ecosystem – opportunities and challenges

- There is no shortage of start-ups and innovation in the ecosystem. The issue is how to make sure that the expertise in the country is available to the start-ups.

- Standardization of data is important.

- There is a need to build trust and validate the product or service. A power-point presentation doesn't work for the farmer. Again, validation isn’t simple because there is humongous diversity of crops, land, soil, etc.

- As digitisation increases, we will need people who are adept at this, providing a tremendous employment opportunity.

- The primary purpose of start-ups and innovation in the AgTech space should not be for creation of unicorns, but to demonstrate increase in farmers’ incomes.

- Companies such as ITC have engaged with start-ups to a large extent, but found only a small percentage good enough to continue to engage with. The reasons for this are many– either their solutions do not help farmers on the ground, or they promised more than what they could deliver, or some solutions were searching for a problem when it should be the other way around, or the amount of bandwidth that corporates have to commit for the start-up is too much that it is not worth their time or the problem definition doesn’t happen right at the beginning.

- There is need for incubator facilities in rural areas.

- There should be a Sandbox for agri innovations to try out different innovations without fear of failure.

- Nothing moves without money, but for investors to commit money, there is need to demonstrate that customers will pay, and the success of the business model has to be proved.

- The AgTech sector is unlike other sectors where investors come in. Unicorns are not going to happen but that doesn’t mean successful businesses can’t be built.

- There is a need for market connect for farmers.

- There has hardly been much innovation in the livestock area.

- There is a need for more players in the ecosystem and capacity to be built.

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