Green Revolution 2.0 – A movement towards sustainable agriculture
The seeds are already being sown to promote sustainable agriculture and climate-resilient systems. Policies, technology and India Inc’s sustained efforts to deploy agri-tech to address environmental challenges are the foundation to a more eco-friendly and sustainable future.
- Agriculture has traditionally been (and continues to be in many parts) the source of basic sustenance of 70% of the population, which resides in rural India. Yet, it continues to fail its suppliers and customers often.
- The sector is plagued with myriad issues ranging from natural to man-made: dependency on climate/weather and natural scarce resources such as water, small and fragmented land holdings and lack of soil replenishment, etc.
- Many companies, VCs, startups are increasingly of the view that there is an urgent and important need to adopt new and less-negatively impacting agricultural practices for future generations.
- At the same time, the governments must provide farmers with access to startup infrastructure, such as through the Krishi Vigyan Kendras, to engage with these innovations.
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Agriculture has traditionally been (and continues to be in many parts) the source of basic sustenance of 60% of the population. But over the years, experts have been strongly propagating the need for sustainable practices. Agriculture today is plagued with myriad issues ranging from natural to man-made: dependency on climate/weather and scarce natural resources, small and fragmented land holdings, lack of soil replenishment, lack of adequate and appropriate storage facilities and other services in the supply chain including harvesting, packing, and transporting, etc.
On the positive side, India is witnessing some strong initiatives in the direction of a farming ecosystem that’s sustainability-focused and tech-led. The seeds are already being sown to promote sustainable agriculture and climate-resilient systems. For eg, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) to facilitate action research (research carried out with the active participation of farmers to provide solutions for the challenges). It focuses on site-specific transfer of technologies under sustainable agriculture, integrated farming system, crop intensification, agro-forestry, plantation and horticulture, animal sciences, agri-engineering, etc., including post-harvest technologies.
In Andhra Pradesh, farmers are forgoing chemical pesticides to adopt sustainable natural farming methods. Andhra Pradesh plans to become India’s first 100% “zero budget natural farming” state by 2027. In zero budget natural farming, the costs of growing a primary crop are offset by income generated from intercrops. All crops are grown without chemicals, utilizing non-pesticide management techniques. Similarly, India’s 450 agri-tech startups are enabling farmers to try new tech solutions to become a sustainable and profit-yielding enterprise. These changes will play a huge role in national economy as the sector comprises of 16% of India’s GDP and 44% of total workforce employed.
ESG in Agri-tech:
Analysis by Trucost, a part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, shows that industrialized farming practices cause US$ 3 trillion per year in environmental impact worldwide. The report summarizes that some times, the effect of crop production on the environment is greater than the price of the crop itself, and suggests that the crop price must be adjusted to reflect the damage brought on by cultivation on environmental and social factors. The same would reflect the true fair price of the crop and pass on the burden to the consumers, and thus would move the economy towards more sustainable practices.
Businesses and investors are increasingly are of the view that there is an urgent and important need to adopt new and less-negatively impacting agricultural practices for future generations. A small but growing number of venture capitalists, institutions and corporates are increasingly looking at the environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics while making investments in the agri-tech sector.
Omnivore, one of the first sector-specific VC funds in India has funded 24 startups across agri-tech subsectors including: Dehaat (full-stack agri marketplace), Bijak (B2B agricultural commodity platform), Stellapps (dairy digitisation platform), Aquaconnect (SaaS-based platform for aquafarmers), AgNext (crop quality and traceability platform), Fasal (IoT-led horticulture platform), GramCover (rural fintech and farm finance), etc. Mark Kahn, Managing Director, Omnivore, believes that the funds’ focus on ESG implementation by its investee companies will go a long way in supporting the sector:
ESG investing as we see it is largely about risk management – managing social risks, managing environmental risks. What we have found is that most entrepreneurs actually really like it, because most entrepreneurs are fairly young, fairly new to running businesses and it helps them think around corners. It helps them anticipate risks they might not have thought about otherwise. So, implementing it has not been very difficult. …When you have an INR 20mn business, the business is one year old and you are implementing ESG for the first time, it is not so hard. It is very very small. And then the systems grow accordingly. So ESG is kind of baked into your DNA.
Digital Greens: New-age tech solutions for traditional agricultural issues
Of late, many agri-tech companies are adopting this philosophy and coming up with innovative solutions. For example, BASF in India, has started to provide products, which include biodegradable mulch film and other seed treatments that help soil to conserve its natural moisture and fertility. In case of a certified biodegradable mulch film, a layer of protective material is applied to soil to conserve its moisture and fertility. Unlike most mulch films used in agriculture today that are made of polyethylene (PE), an independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil & conserves its properties. The firm also imparts training to farmers through its widespread farmer outreach programs.
Hydrogreens, based in Bengaluru, helps farmers grow healthy fodder for their cattle by distributing vertical climate-controlled fodder growth systems named as ‘Kambala’ to farmers in dry and arid regions. The system is based on evaporative cooling technology to maintain a temperature of around 22-28 degree Celsius and 60 percent humidity. Using it, 20-30 kg of high-protein fodder can be harvested every day in limited space—using very little water (optionally)—and run on solar power even in extreme temperatures.
Computer vision technology including plant image recognition, monitoring and analysis of crop health is increasingly being deployed across the country and contributes to the growth of AI in the sector. CropIn uses technology such as Big Data Analytics, Machine Learning, AI, and remote sensing tools to enable farmers to obtain actionable insights on their standing crop. Similarly, Fasl provides predictions about diseases and pests and provides preventive actions/recommendations to farmers in local languages. It collects data through solar-powered IOT devices for its analysis and predictions.
Green Revolution 2.0: Time for a sustainable beginning
Multiple use cases from combining satellite imagery, weather and ground data flow in the country from continuous monitoring of crop health, crop assessment, market linkages, monitoring of inventory and supply-demand gaps etc, catering to multiple stakeholders in the long-winded supply chain. Investments in the agri-tech sector are also rising. According to Markets And Markets, the AI in agriculture market is expected to reach US$ 4 billion by 2026, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 25.5%; though there is work to be done from a policy standpoint. Kean NG, an investment specialist at Asian Development Bank, mentions:
From a policy standpoint, there needs to be greater support for agritech. While many state governments have policies for startups, there is no specific policy for agritech firms, not least because of the scant recognition of the agriculture and climate change connection. Governments must provide farmers with access to startups’ infrastructure, such as through the Krishi Vigyan Kendras, to engage with these innovations.
The recognition by the businesses and people that growth and productivity will have to be hand-in-hand with sustainability in agriculture is a step in the right direction. Policies, technology and India Inc’s sustained efforts to deploy agri-tech to address environmental challenges, especially – land degradation, groundwater depletion, water logging and excessive use of chemical inputs – will perhaps augment growth and sustainability throughout the country.