Big Tech giants – Amazon, Microsoft and Cisco Systems Inc. are very much keen to be part of the Indian government-led productivity drive to transform an outmoded agricultural industry. The Narendra Modi-led government has signed preliminary agreements with the three US companies and a slew of local businesses starting April to share farm statistics it has been gathering since it came to power in 2014.
According to a Bloomberg report, the PM Modi is betting the private sector can help farmers boost yields with apps and tools built from information such as crop output, soil quality and land holdings. Moreover, Jio Platforms Ltd are among the local powerhouses that have signed up for the program.
The government, with this project, wants to usher in long-due reforms to make over a $488 billion farm sector that employs almost half of the nation’s 1.3 billion people and accounts for about 18% of Asia’s third-biggest economy. The Bloomberg report states that the government is counting on the project’s success to boost rural incomes, cut imports, reduce some of the world’s worst food wastages with better infrastructure, and eventually compete with exporters such as Brazil, the United States and the European Union.
The global firms are vying to bite India’s agri-tech industry pie, which Ernst & Young estimates to have the potential to reach about $24 billion in revenue by 2025, with the current penetration being only 1%. Ankur Pahwa, a partner at consultancy EY India, said this is a high impact industry and private players are sensing the opportunity and want to be a large part of it. “India has a very high amount of food wastage because of lack of technology and infrastructure. So there’s a huge upside to the program.”
Under the program, the tech companies will seed all the information such as crop pattern, soil health, insurance, credit and weather patterns into a single database and then analyze it through artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics. The goal is to develop personalized services for a sector replete with challenges such as peaking yields, water stress, degrading soil and lack of infrastructure including temperature-controlled warehouses and refrigerated trucks.
The big tech companies, under the agreement, will help the government develop proof of concepts to offer tech solutions for farm-to-fork services, which farmers will be able to access at their doorstep. Furthermore, if this is beneficial, the companies would be able to sell the final product to the government and also directly to growers and the solutions would be scaled up at the national level.
The government, so far, has seeded publicly available data for more than 50 million farmers of the 120 million identified land-holding growers. Local companies such as Star Agribazaar Technology, ESRI India Technologies, Patanjali Organic Research Institute and Ninjacart have also signed up.
Sanjay Mathur, chief economist for ASEAN and India at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd, said a database would be useful for a variety of purposes, including agri-marketing, targeting of subsidies and more. “It does lead to a more efficient structure for the rural sector.”
However, success is far from guaranteed. Critics believe this the BJP-led government’s another tactic to give the private sector more control and power, which could hurt small and vulnerable farmers.