Experts contend that Indian farmers have to deal with a range of structural concerns. For the agriculture sector, which employs nearly half the population, the worries range from shrinking landholdings, lack of viable irrigation systems, rising costs of farming, and inadequate access to accurate information, formal credit and markets, among others.
The Indian government, however, seems to believe the advent of the mobile and revolution, which has given birth to a host of startups offering technological solutions, can resolve this maze of challenges that lie before the agricultural sector.
Earlier this month, the agriculture ministry announced its search for “commercially viable” solutions in 12 pre-identified areas. Under the Startup India scheme, which has a massive Rs 10,000 crore purse managed by the Small Industries Development Bank, the agriculture ministry’s Agriculture Grand Challenge contest will seek startups offering best solutions and incubate them.
The contest is divided into two stages—idea and enterprise. As per the AGC document, the plan is to identify one startup for the idea and another for the enterprise stage across each of these 12 pre-identified areas. Commercially viable ideas will be incubated at the government’s expense for three months, besides mentoring from domain experts and real-time testing in agricultural markets to see whether the concept works.
The Startup India Hub website, which the government launched earlier this year to facilitate greater engagement with the country’s thriving startup ecosystem, has listed the 12 ‘pre-identified’ areas in which farm-tech solutions are being sought.
The applications for this startup challenge close on February 15, 2018. The winners will be announced on March 20, 2018. Interested applicants can send their proposal to Startup India Hub website.
In the AGC document, the government stated it would prefer solutions that are scalable and can reach small farmers. “I urge young entrepreneurs to participate in our newly launched Agriculture Grand Challenge and join forces to make agrarian sector technologically sound and commercially viable,” said agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh.
The private sector has a definitive role to play in providing solutions for these 12 pre-identified areas. For example, under eNAM initiative, the government has linked 470 mandis across the country electronically.
However, these mandis lack the necessary product testing and warehousing/storage/refrigeration facilities, especially for perishable products.
Another potential area for redressal is better linkages between farmers and other markets, besides government-sanctioned mandis, and thus reducing the role an intermediary can play.
Incentives for the government to invite private players also exist in the better implementation of its flagship crop insurance scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. Any accurate dissemination of insurance money and discovering premium prices will require reliable estimates of yields and farm sizes, which need technological solutions.
Another potential area of redressal is cheaper solutions to dispose of crop residue, instead of burning them and emitting harmful pollutants.