To discuss the opportunities in the Indian agrifood sector, Inc42, in association with Japanese investment firm Mistletoe, organised the Farm to Fork event last week in Bengaluru. The event brought together the agrifood ecosystem fraternity – startups, investors and experts under one roof. At the event, Taizo Son, Founder & Chairman, Mistletoe also unveiled Gastrotope, an accelerator platform to help succeed agrifood startups.
“India’s agrifood or farm to fork sector offers huge potential for all sort of startups. However, to encash the potential, we need to build and integrate the entire ecosystem first,” said Vaibhav Agrawal, Founder & CEO, Inc42 in his opening remarks. Taizo Son, later, during the Keynote session shared his 23-year-long inspiring journey as an entrepreneur and investor. Taizo spoke about the most important aspect of every startup, accomplishment vs mistakes. Speaking about his own journey, he said,
“For every success, I had to go through almost two failures.”
Farm To Fork: A Background
India is the second largest food producer country in the world. Agrifood sector contributes 35% in the GDP. However, the harsh truth is that 40% of the food produced gets wasted, costing $15 Bn (INR 964 Bn) every year. According to the US Department of Agriculture Analysis, India’s Coarse Grain Area, Yield, and Production is going down by 4.76%. A high time for startups and investors to take charge and pump up innovations and integrate the entire ecosystem.
Taking steps in the agriculture sector, earlier in May 2017, Inc42 had organised an AgriTtech Investors Roundtable in Delhi. This time around, it took the harbinger’s task by extending the magnitude of the roundtable to the Farm to Fork event. Thus providing an apt platform to let startups and investors voice their opinions through un-conferencing and panel discussions. The event also showcased seven startups working across the farm to fork life cycle, which provided them with an opportunity to present their ideas to investors and other members of the fraternity.
Facing Challenges, Building Sustainable Businesses Across The Agrifood Lifecycle
The event kickstarted with a panel discussion which included startup founders working across farm to fork life cycle. Titled around “Facing Challenges, Building Sustainable Businesses Across The Agrifood Lifecycle”, the session, moderated by Vaibhav included the following panelists:
- Thirukumaran Nagarajan, Co-founder, Ninjacart
- Kengo Kitaura, CEO, Agribuddy
- Stuart Oda, Co-founder and CEO, Alesca Life
- Karthic Ravindranath, Director, Goldfarm
- Karthik Jayaraman, Founding team member, Waycool
After going through a couple of failures in his early startups, Thirukumaran co-founded Ninjacart which deals with the smart supply chain in farm to fork sector. Within two years of its launch, the startup has managed to raise about $8.5 Mn in funding. Speaking about the challenges, Thirukumaran gave an account of supply chain’s difficulties in farm to fork sector. “There are challenges at many levels, even if we manage to bring fresh perishable foods from farmers’ site to cold storage, the big issue is that most of the retailers don’t have the cold storing facilities at their place. Despite our utmost care, some of the food ultimately get wasted. Thus building cold storage at upper level won’t help, until retailers get cold storage.”
He further added, “Another huge challenge is to maintain the balance. For instance, Bengaluru city residents’ demand for tomato or potato would almost remain constant throughout the year; However, the production would differ. Also, farmers do copy each other. Somebody needs to guide them to make them understand what unique product can they produce that could have a better demand in the market.”
Inspired by Nobel Laureate Md. Yunus’ work, Kengo Kitaura, CEO of Agribuddy which is a Cambodia–based startup now running their pilot projects in India, said, “Our organisation aims to enrich small farmers’ lives and consider how they can make money in agriculture. We want to have a business that is good for society, and has a scalable business i.e. agrifood.” On Challenges in India’s Farm to Fork, he said,“There are several intermediaries in the supply chain while only a few are organised players. Unlike Cambodian government, Indian governments — state and center — have taken many initiatives including subsidies to help poor farmers. However, the initiatives are not reaching to the farmers.”
Karthic Ravindranath’s startup Goldfarm is in the business of farm equipment aggregation that helps farmers access affordable and reliable source. The startup is looking to integrate more and more services on its platform. Speaking of the challenges he’s facing, he said, “Tracking the farm location, as their pins are not available on Google maps is difficult. Also, the mobile locations are not the same as of farm locations. Hence, to tackle the situation, we do register farm locations in the database. This helps save enormous time when the same customer demands the equipment.”
“In our society, people usually perceive that it’s the middleman who makes all the money and farmers suffer. After spending quite some time in this field, let me tell you there is no such middleman, who makes all the money. There is some discrepancy at every level,” says Karthic Ravindranath.
It is often said that agriculture is one of the riskiest businesses. The new generation is afraid of taking that sort of risk. However, information-based apps with efficient ML & AI could beat every other industry. According to Stuart Oda, “Farm to fork is one of the most important industries in the world with a potential to earn manifolds returns.” Stuart, on the topic of comparison with Chinese Farm To Fork sector, said, “Chinese people are more concerned about food safety.”
What Are Investors Looking At?
India’s farm to fork is perhaps the only sector that follows Eisenhower way too closely who said, “plans are nothing; planning is everything.” At a time, when opening a food park model has not been very successful, investors are now planning a long term strategy, focussing more on the impact model than the investments’ return in short term. The second-panel discussion with India’s leading investors attempted to decode investors’ views on farm to fork investments. Panelists in the second session moderated by Rajesh Sawhney included :
- Mark Kahn, Founding Partner, Omnivore Partners
- Vikram Gupta, Founder and managing Partner, IvyCap Ventures
- Ritu Verma, Cofounder and Managing Partner, Ankur Capital Fund
- Atsushi Taira, Chief Growth Officer and Representative Director, Mistletoe
Farm to fork ain’t exactly the sector where the content i.e. idea is the king. Business sustainability in agrifood sector depends upon a pot of external factors: State, Infrastructure, Transport facilities, Government initiatives and so on. Owing to the volatility and dependency on several independent factors, Vikram Gupta pointed out, “In farm to fork, the big challenge is picking up the right investment, and providing them the right support.”
So, what are the top parameters that help an investor picking up the right choice? Ritu responded, “The primary focus of ours is accessing the transformational impact of the particular startup and scalability of the impact.” To this, Mark added, “India is developing technologies that could find applications in other parts of the world too.”
For investors, where to invest is not the only challenge; but where not to invest is also a big challenge. Ritu commented, “There are certain spaces in Farm to fork, which are really hard to touch. We have to upkeep the information dynamically to reduce the volatility of the market.”
Vikram elaborated, “There have been instances when startup’s services were immediately terminated once the government changes. If the government is a boon for the farm to fork startups, it can be a bane too. We must remember this harsh truth.”
Rajesh added, “When it comes to India farm to fork sector, there is a huge dichotomy. While rural India produces the major chunk of food, urban India consumes most of the food. It’s one flow.”
What Is The Way Forward?
India’s Farm to fork chain is largely unbalanced owing to the unbalanced attention and intervention by the government of the day. Mark opined, “If you could democratize the capital, you can’t even imagine the scale of impact. That’s what transformation is all about.” However, Ritu differed, “Funding/subsidy is not the only help. Government is undoubtedly the largest actor. All it needs to ensure is to make local actors move.”
Unconferencing: How India Can Build A Vibrant Farm To Fork Economy
Unconferencing witnessed 100% engagement from all startups present at the event. Moderated by Entrepreneur and Investor Rajesh Sawhney, Founder and CEO of Incubator platform GSF India and Startup InnerChef, people sitting at various roundtables were divided into ten separate teams. Each team was asked to come up with 2-3 new ideas regarding “How Indian Can Become A Vibrant Farm To Fork Economy” in ten minutes.
Some of the quick ideas presented were:
- Since farmers are in deficit of information regarding markets, value, weather and all data pertaining to farming, there could be an app that could be a one-stop solution for the farmers providing all the information and related data within time.
- Since farmers are neither tech savvy nor equipped to understand data analysis, IVR call systems could be set up where they could simply call to get all the information.
- The government approach towards farmers is different, which is why subsidy can’t be the solution for the viability and profitability of the segment. An entrepreneur’s approach is however quite different. It is a solution-based approach, hence much more effective. Thus the idea is to increase the private partnership in farm to fork sector.
- Asymmetrical production of food grains leads to huge food loss. Farmers usually are unaware of the market demands. It’s time to tell them supply as per the demand and stop producing in the traditional way, which is to keep sowing the same what other farmers do.
- Work towards helping farmers build chemical-free foods, that would also help consumers in reducing their annual healthcare budget.
- Hongkong’s MTR Metro is the most profitable metro in the world, however, their ticket fare is very cheap. This is precisely because MTR has a completely different model. It lends buildings built over metro stations and makes huge profits. A similar strategy could be adopted in agriculture too. Farmers should explore to harness multiple benefits from the same land simultaneously. Food, like education and healthcare, must be made free for all. This is should be the ultimate goal, and ideas must be developed accordingly.
- So far, every Indian family be it, in rural or urban areas, cooks separately and hence wastes separately. What if there be centralised kitchen concepts, which could provide food for an entire community living nearby!
“We must change the way we perceive farming and farmers. Farmers in their own way could be scientists, entrepreneurs or startupers or investors,” Rajesh Sawhney stated.
7 Startups Ideas Presented At Farm To Fork
The Farm to fork event also provided an apt platform to select startups working across the farm to fork life cycle to showcase ideas to top investors in the domain.
AgriculTour offers a holistic solution to food waste and provides farmers, an opportunity to market their farms and sell products. According to Farzana R, Co-founder, and Director of the startup, “Most of the people waste food because of the lack of realisation of the fact that it took months to produce the same what they just wasted. AgriculTour aims to show them farms, make them understand the process of farming, and market farms as possible tourist destinations.” The solutions it offers are:
- Develop farms as novel tourist destinations and organise Agri-cultural Tours for experiential learning and leisure
- Enable socio-economic development of farmers through diversification
- Nurture rich Indian culture and heritage
The idea behind the startup was to help the founding members of the entire farm to fork chain i.e. farmers. Anil Nadig, Cofounder, Jivabhumi says, “While most of the agrifood solutions offered by startups offer solutions to partial problems however, in farm to fork, the core of all issues is that farmers ain’t getting the returns on what they are investing. Our startup aim to give back to farmers.” The idea is to provide:
- A platform connecting consumers & businesses to local farmers via the food.
- Better livelihood for farmers
- Safe food for consumers
Currently catering to the farmers of western UP, VezaMart is in the online business of pre-production chain, providing right seeds, and other sister stuff to farmers through a mobile app. Harendra, VP-Marketing says, “It’s not limited to online services only, we do provide all sorts of advices to the farmers.” The mobile based solution to farmers which processes data from the farm and provides personalized and actionable information to the farmers, helps them buy quality inputs and use them efficiently thus improving productivity, quality, and predictability of produce.
FarmGuide is a data driven agritech startup with a strong team of 42 members (IITs/NITs) aiming to strengthen and bridge information asymmetry in agri-supply chain by offering SaaS products. The solutions it offers include:
- Digitization of periodic existing processes
- Data analytics & Image processing application in agricultural sector.
- Communication and Information system to connect agri-supply chain stakeholders.
Mahindra backed MeraKisan aims to provide one-stop solution to farmers and consumers. The intent is to bridge the demand-supply gap in farm to fork supply chain. Its solution include-
- Farm to fork logistics services with farm-gate as point of origin
- Strengthening Farmer base for sourcing
- Support tie-up with Local logistic services
- Leverage Greenyard support
- Imported Fruits – link to all modern retailers for front end linkage
- Source F&V for DC setup that is under planning
Intello Labs use Artificial Intelligence and deep learning for crop quality parameters like crop infestation, nutrient deficiency harvest quality evaluation of fruits, vegetables, grains and other crops and farm to fork commodities etc. The startup use satellite and drone images for yield estimation, and water requirements. Farmers, procurers, fields agents or quality professionals can just click an image of the crop or harvested produce and Intello Labs can provide precise insights from the images.
Swakrushi is an agritech startup aimed to encourage and make farming profitable by introducing freelancing in farm to form space. Co-founder Shrinivas Shiv says, “We want to bring progressive ethical and professional farming and increase every farmers income to make their life much better than living in expensive polluted cities. The initiative aims to promote freelancing in agritech solutions such as, logistics and cultivation.”
Farm To Fork: The Conclusion
Huge potential. Myriad challenges. The agrifood sector’s challenges have grown manifolds owing to the lack of ML-based farming i.e. lack of reliable data has made AI almost impossible to integrate. Thus the idea behind the Farm to fork event by Inc42 was to bring 100 key stakeholders, entrepreneurs, government officials, investors and ecosystem enablers under one roof to converge and connect the dots.