What comes to your mind when you first hear the word agriculture? Green fields, scorching sun, axes and oxen? Surprise! Surprise! The reality is much more than this. Technology has enabled agriculture to be one of the fanciest industries of 2020. 

In a series of two extremely insightful panel discussions moderated by Srikanth Soni, Headstart Hyderabad took the audience behind the scenes of the Agri-Tech industry. The first panel consisted of agri-tech founders and the second panel consisted of agri-tech investors. 

Sowing the seeds of success

The first panel involved Sathya Raghu V Mokkapati, Kheyti; Dashmanth Reddy, Ujjay; Sandeep Kondaji, Krishitantra.

Mr. Mokkapati entered the industry by identifying two reasons why 2/3rd  of the farmers in India lose money each year: Natural factors such as climate change and distribution network in response to which Kheyti came up with The Greenhouse Box. Mr. Kondaji’s Krishi Tantra specializes on a soil testing and agronomy advisory system and gives results of soil testing within 30 minutes. Mr. Reddy started his company with a vision to start a renting service similar to Ola for renting farming equipment. 

Background in Agriculture: a Requirement?

All the panelists disagree that a background in agriculture is required to startup in the agri-tech industry. Instead, efforts and passion are critical factors to success in this industry. Mr. Mokkapati advises to “Understand the problem, empathize with the user, and start building a solution for a real problem.” He encourages his team to stay a couple of days in the rural community to understand the first-hand perspective of farmers and come up with empathetic solutions. Mr. Dashmanth also had his team visit the villages from their pilot program to help them interact with the farmers and understand what problem exists. Adding to this, Mr. Sandeep and Mr. Reddy also agree that it is essential to:

  1.   Identify a Problem 
  2.   Solve it at ground-level 

Hiring for an Agri-Tech Company

There is a struggle to find the right employees because many a time the employees are either too old or inexperienced for the role. Mr. Kondaji says that “connecting to ground is extremely important.” He introduced a system in which every employee is given a plant to take care of, based on which they would be awarded. Ujjay  adopts a franchise model that consists of the equipment rentals, input store, and post-harvest agriculture connections. Agriculture graduates are hired and help would be provided to them to establish industry connections. Ideally, if one pillar is known, the other two are taught to the new recruits.

 Agri Tech and Social Media Awareness

Whatsapp works (like) magic for us,” says Mr. Reddy. They have a policy wherein the franchise owner is required to be a part of every whatsapp group in each of the 30-40 villages around the village with the company’s main operations. This is done to ensure that there is a fluid channel of communication between the company and the farmers. Facebook is the second most effective social media platform which caters to the more tech-savvy second generation farmers.

Farmers’ Receptiveness to Solutions

Early adoption is highly welcomed.  However, almost half of the farmers wait and watch to see the results before trying out a new idea. This is due to the fact that they have been exploited in the past, but once convinced, as Mr. Reddy puts it, “they open their doors for you.” 

Mr. Mokkapati advises the help of key influencers to convince the farmers to adopt new technology. “Make it farmer centric,” it may take some time, but it will help build a solid base. Mr. Kondaji adds that “trust plays a major role in agriculture.” Once there is acceptance, it is very hard to replace the company.

The Role of The Government

On one hand, Mr. Kondaji agrees that the government plays a huge role in helping agri-tech startups. On the other hand, Mr. Mokkapati believes in a free hand economy. There are government flagship programs to increase the frequency of soil testing and programs by NABARD and Niti Aayog for soil testing and soil rejuvenation. However, real problems can only be solved by entrepreneurs taking voluntary action.

Technology’s Contribution to The Yield

There has been tremendous increase in the yields with technology as an enabler. Technology has given rise to lower costs and improvements in farming mechanisms. As Mr. Mokkapati says, there has been an increase of 700% in yield in the same piece of land with the ‘greenhouse box.’ The amount of water used has been reduced to 1 litre from 50 litres for the same piece of land. 

Technology has resulted in short-term and long-term benefits. Mr. Kondaji says, In the short term, there were savings of 14%-20% in input costs and lower usage of fertilizers. In the long term, better fertilizers lead to regeneration of soil

The panel discussion on the agri-tech industry was extremely informative and successful in presenting the potential for growth of the industry in the coming years ahead and strong opportunity in business during the pandemic. The next panel consisted of Rajneesh KumarSpeaker, Pusa Krishi – IARI; Abhilash SethiSpeaker & Investor, Omnivore; Bhubesh KumarSpeaker and Mentor, RICHfeaturing the other side: investors and enablers of the agri-tech industry. Read it here.

Key Takeaways

  •     The most important thing is to understand the problems the farmers are facing before finding solutions for it.
  •     Social media can be effectively used to communicate between villages.
  •     Technology has made agriculture more profitable as an industry.

Contributed by:
V. Aishwarya Singh
Headstart Hyderabad