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Insights into Editorial: Seeding a data revolution in Indian agriculture

 

 

Introduction:

In June 2021, two significant documents relating to the Indian agriculture sector were released.

The first is a consultation paper on the India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA) from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoA&FW) and the second on Indian Agriculture: Ripe for Disruption from a private organisation, Bain and Company.

The first talks about a digital revolution in the agriculture sector and later predicts a revolutionary investment growth in agri-logistics, offtake, and agri-input delivery by 2025; these are, surprisingly, highly complementary.

 

Challenges of agriculture sector:

  1. Agriculture cannot be seen in isolation. It should be seen as an integral part of a larger ecosystem spanning the entire primary sector including horticulture, animal husbandry, fisheries, dairy, poultry, and other allied activities.
  2. India’s agriculture sector accounts for about 9 % of the country’s US$ 2.7 trillion economy and 49% of employment (2018-19).
  3. Viewed from the socio-economic point, agriculture is the most important sector that needs focus and attention at all levels.
  4. The call of the Government of India to achieve the goal of Doubling Farmer’s Income (DFI)by 2022, in a way, epitomizes the need to pursue all possible ways of increasing the agricultural productivity and profitability of the farmers.
  5. It also touches upon the need to accelerate our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger, poverty, and malnutrition in a sustainable manner.

 

The forecast: Data-based prediction on agri-business:

  1. The Bain report is a data-based prediction on agri-business scenarios, anchored to the agricultural set-up at present and predicting its future trajectories in another 20 years.
  2. It includes targeting the production of alternative proteins, and food cell-based food/ingredients and initiating ocean farming, etc.
  3. The report has a ‘today forward– future back approach’ and predicts a drastic investment opportunity development by 2025.
  4. The agriculture sector (currently worth $370 billion), is estimated to receive an additional $35 billion investment.
  5. The two enabling conditions for such investment opportunities are:

The changes in the regulatory framework, especially recent changes in the Farm Acts and Digital disruption.

  1. The report argues that benefiting from the huge investments into the agri-ecosystem, doubling farmers’ income targets can be achieved in near future.

 

The idea of integration:

  1. The IDEA-consulting paper is based on the Task Force and Working Group report constituted by the MoA&FW to design the blueprint of “digital agriculture” — which is similar to the digital disruption mentioned in the Bain report.
  2. Eventually, the farmer and the improvement of farmers’ livelihood is the aim of the IDEA concept and it is proposed to happen through tight integration of agri-tech innovation and the agriculture industry ecosystem to farming and food systems.
  3. To be precise, the IDEA concept profounds the creation of second enabling conditions (which is described in the Bain report).
  4. The IDEA principles explicitly talk about openness of data, which means open to businesses and farmers, indicating the kind of integration it aims at.
  5. Value-added innovative services by agri-tech industries and start-ups are an integral part of the IDEA architecture.
  6. Beyond the architecture, these services listed in the document (to be available on the platform) are equally important data for farmers and businesses.
  7. The Indian agriculture sector in future will encompass farm to fork and pave the way for a single national market with a national platform with better connection between producer and consumers.
  8. Through their work, the management experts have depicted the agriculture reforms announced by the union government as a game-changer in the agriculture sector.

 

IDEA Vision: National Digital Agriculture Ecosystem:

The following vision statement reflects the medium- and long-term outcomes sought to be attained by the IDEA initiative.

To build a National Digital Agriculture Ecosystem, to elevate Indian Agriculture Sector to higher levels of efficiency and productivity, and to improve the welfare and income of farmers.

 

The objectives of National Digital Agriculture Ecosystem are as follows:

  1. To enable the farmer to realize higher income and better profitability through access to right information at the right time, and from innovative services.
  2. To enable better planning and execution of policies, programs, and schemes of the Central and State governments, and, also of the private sector and Farmers Producer Organizations (FPOs).
  3. To enhance efficiencies in the usage of resources including land, water, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and farm mechanization by providing easier access to information.
  4. To provide location-specific and personalized extension services across agriculture lifecycle, with simultaneous protection of privacy of personal data.
  5. To build capacities across the gamut of digital agriculture and precision agriculture.
  6. To promote adoption of standards for interoperability and seamless exchange of information across ecosystem, while ensuring that the digital rights are properly managed.
  7. To give a fillip to R&D and Innovations in agriculture through access to high-quality data.
  8. To adopt the best principles of cooperative federalism while working with the states and union territories for the realization of the vision of IDEA.
  9. To formulate and leverage PPP frameworks for realizing the ‘power of the digital’.

 

Way Ahead: Focus on the farmer:

Agreeing on the fact that a data revolution is inevitable in the agriculture sector, given its socio-political complexities, we cannot just count on technology fixes and agri-business investments for improving farmers’ livelihoods.

There need to be immense efforts to improve the capacities of the farmers in India – at least until the educated young farmers replace the existing under-educated small and medium farmers.

This capacity building can be done through a mixed approach – preferably building the capacities of individual farmers or coping with the new situation by establishing support systems, through FPOs and other farmers associations where technical support is available for farmers.

 

Conclusion:

The fact is that every segment of present-day life is data-hungry. The MoA&FW report describes creating data to fuel the growth predicted by Bain and Company.

Considering the size of the agriculture sector of the country this is not going to be an easy task but would need a separate programme across the country with considerable investment.