Agriculture is a significant source of livelihood for almost 1.3 Bn population in India. However, the coronavirus-led lockdown has hit the farming community and impacted their livelihood adversely. The first phase of complete lockdown had a prominent impact due to restrictions on transport and logistics, supply chain, and shutting down of local markets. Even after the announcement of lockdown 2.0, there were restricted movements of agricultural machinery, shortage of essential agrochemicals, and other hindrances in the entire supply process.
To get through the pandemic situation, a stimulating package of a whopping INR 1.63 Cr announced by the government focuses on reviving the sector’s growth. The amendment of the Essential Commodities Act also poises as a strong effort to bolster the farming community by deregulating cereals, pulses, onions, and potatoes.
Moreover, the option for farmers to trade online has resulted in a massive growth of agritech startups. They are creating channels that allow farmers to choose their market and sell their produce at better prices.
The agritech startups are bringing innovation to keep the sector functional. With the integration of new-age technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and remote sensing, the startups are offering immediate solutions in streamlining the supply process and helping the farmers to produce more efficiently.
Nearly, there are more than 450 agritech startups in India and according to the estimates of FICCI, they are growing at 25% year on year. In the initial phase of the lockdown, the startups struggled to survive in the market. However, after a few weeks, the sector started to stabilise even faster than the pre-Covid times. Several of them are transforming the agriculture landscape in India disrupted due to the pandemic situation. This led to opening up an immense network of opportunities to drive the sector sustainably.
Unlike other businesses, there is a clear V-shaped recovery in the sector as farmers are being more open to adopting new-age technologies and practices to keep their farming cycle running. To remove the disruption from the food supply chain, the agritech startups are stepping up in redesigning the farming ecosystem.
Hydroponic / Soil-Less Farming
Eating healthy during Covid-19 has become crucial for our body. People are becoming more aware of eating habits and food to prevent infections and build strong immunity. There are agri-tech startups that have stepped-onto hydroponic and soil-less farming techniques. It demands less-operations, space, and produces nutritious food using the highest level of hygiene. Being one of the most efficient farming methods, Hydroponic is also a resilient option in a pandemic situation such as Covid-19. Unlike conventional methods, it takes less time to grow the vegetables and offers better food security and fills the demand-supply gap quickly.
During the pandemic situation, food supply already dropped due to several movement restrictions. However, this allowed many agritech startups that specialise in hydroponic farming to create highly productive and sustainable farming models for the new age farmers. Additionally, they are offering end-to-end farm management solutions to train the new-age farmers to impart technical training and run a farm efficiently.
The Smart Farming Model
The transition from traditional farming experiences to managing a farm using new-age technology has led to incredible results. Using IoT enabled systems, farmers can manage growth factors, optimize produce and labour on their field. It helps them monitor crops, weather conditions, and soil quality. Additionally, it helps in adjusting indoor growth factors that can optimise crop yields for efficient production.
Smart farming model is still an emerging concept in India that makes sensors, data analytics, software, and many other tools available to farmers. The implementation of Artificial Intelligence and IoT in Agriculture during Covid-19 offered more efficient ways of producing, monitoring, and selling crops. It presented a completely new universe of farming to sustain farmers’ living.
Since the farmers have to fulfil a huge demand, agritech startups have come up with precision-based sowing techniques. There are AI-based apps for predicting weather conditions and determining the right time to sow seeds with precision to ensure better growth and minimize the wastage. The self- reliant IoT enabled apps to leverage sensors that monitor the health of the crop and soil.
For instance, the farmers incorporate drones equipped with cameras and sensors for field inspection that draws up insights to determine crop conditions, irrigation, damage caused by weeds and pests, etc.
Effective Supply Chain
The initial phase of lockdown led to extreme difficulty in keeping and trading the food. The restrictions on intrastate and interstate movement unsettled the complete supply chain process. However, post the lockdown, many agri-tech startups have revolutionised the concept of physical marketplaces for farmers to sell their produce.
With the concept of an online marketplace, the startups are offering robust end-to-end supply chain management. It allows farmers to directly sell their produce to consumers and even retailers at a better price. The model of e-aggregator and marketplace works closely with resellers and farmers. It lets the farmer upload their produce online and once the order is received, they facilitate doorstep pickup with compliance to social distancing norms. It also benefits MNCs and small-scale industries in procuring the items to sell in the market.
During the ongoing pandemic, agritech startups are playing a critical role in advancing the sector. It is bringing innovation to remove disruption and solve challenges hampering the growth of the farming community. Many technology-based players are using Artificial Intelligence, IoT and big data to improve the crop cycle and harvest quality. While others are making use of Machine Learning and Blockchain technologies to solve credit and payment issues for farmers.