Amazon.com, Microsoft, and Cisco Systems the technology are behemoths lining up to collect data from India’s farmers as part of a government-led productivity drive aimed at transforming an ageing agricultural industry.
Union government, which is working to ensure food security in the country, has inked an agreement with three U.S. conglomerates and a slew of local businesses to share farm statistics gathered data since 2014. PM Narendra Modi believes the private sector can help farmers increase yields by developing apps and tools based on data available such as soil health, crop production, and land ownership.
The center announced this week that Jio Platforms Ltd., a venture controlled by billenior Mukesh Ambani’s RIL., and Tobacco giant ITC Ltd. are among the local business powerhouses that have signed up for the program.
With the project, Modi hopes to usher in long-overdue reforms to a farm sector that employs nearly half of the country’s 1.3 billion people and accounts for roughly one-fifth of Asia’s third-largest economy.
The government is banking on the project’s success to boost rural incomes, reduce imports, reduce some of the world’s worst food wastes through improved infrastructure, and eventually compete with exporters such as the United States, Brazil, and the European Union (EU).
For global industry players, it’s an opportunity to get a piece of India’s Agritech industry, which Ernst & Young (EY) estimates have the potential to create $24 billion in revenue by 2025, despite a current penetration of only 1%.
It’s also an opportunity to deploy networks, machine learning and artificial intelligence in a developing country, while for online delivery companies like Amazon and Reliance, gaining a consistent supply of farm produce could help them get into a groceries market of India $1 trillion in annual retail spending.
‘This is a high-impact industry, and private players are sensing the opportunity and want to jump in it,’ said Ankur Pahwa, a partner at EY India. ‘Due to a lack of technology and infrastructure, India has a very high amount of food waste. As a result, there is a significant benefit to the program.’
Concept is straightforward
All information, such as crop patterns, soil health, insurance, credit, and weather patterns, should be seeded into a single database and then analyzed using AI and data analytics. The goal is then to create personalized services for a sector beset by challenges such as peaking yields, water stress, deteriorating soil, and a lack of infrastructures, such as temperature-controlled warehouses and refrigerated trucks.
According to the terms of the agreement, big tech companies will assist the government in developing proof of concepts for offering tech solutions for farm-to-fork services that farmers will be able to access at their doorstep. If successful, firms would be able to sell the final product to the government as well as directly to growers, and the solutions would be scaled up on a national scale.
Indian Tech Companies
So far, the central government has made publicly available data for more than 50 million farmers out of the 120 million land-holding farmers. Patanjali Organic Research Institute, Star Agribazaar Technology, ESRI India Technologies, and Ninjacart are among the local corporates that have signed up.
However, success is far from certain. The plan to involve large corporations has already sparked criticism from critics, who say it is yet another attempt by the government to give the private sector more clout, a development that could harm small and vulnerable farmers.
The program may even exacerbate the protracted protests that Modi’s government has been battling for more than nine months after controversial new agricultural laws infuriated some farmers. With crucial state elections in 2022, selling the technology-to-help-agriculture plan to a farming community already sceptical of the government’s intentions may become more difficult.
According to Sukhwinder Singh Sabhra, a farmer from the northern state of Punjab who has been protesting the new farm laws since November says that ‘with this information, they will know where the produce was poor and will buy cheap from farmers there and sell it at exorbitant prices elsewhere, the consumers will suffer more than the farmers.