From start-ups to exports — time to promote agritech start-ups
Infrastructure, product-specific business groups and a business ecosystem are being developed in rural areas as a result of the efforts made by the state governments and the Government of India. Many agri-incubation programmes and facilities have been established in public sector institutes in various parts of the country to identify and incubate start-ups. Taking a step forward, Nabard has launched a specific programme to facilitate agri exports from Maharashtra and Rajasthan. There are clear signs of change in the landscape of start-ups and agribusiness ecosystems in rural areas.
India is a land of small businesses. These are spread in every nook and corner of the country and usually ensure the incomes and livelihoods of most of the people in the urban areas. A special section of society is also known by their occupations, i.e. small businesses. They are commonly known as Marwari or Gujarati businessmen.
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the drivers of social and economic activities in India and form the backbone of the Indian economy. They create employment on a large scale. In the current context of globalization and liberalization, SMEs have to face innumerable challenges for their survival and development. Today most of the businesses are being operated through communication media, online marketplaces and digital platforms. As a result, the number of start-ups is increasing fast.
What does Startup India mean?
The main objectives of Startup India, which was announced in 2015, are the identification of budding entrepreneurs and encouraging them, simplification of rules and handholding, funding support and incentives and promoting public-private partnerships. The initiative got support from the Seed Fund Scheme, Fund of Funds and Credit Guarantee Scheme in 2021-22. These schemes are proving very useful at various stages of the start-ups in supporting them, raising capital and reducing the government complexities in doing business.
With more than 84,000 registered start-ups in 2022, India has emerged as the third-largest ecosystem in the world. In view of the enterprise efficiency and size of the country, the start-up initiative is helping in strengthening small enterprises and boosting the economy. It can prove to be a milestone in linking micro and small enterprises to the mainstream of globalization, liberalization and digitalization along with budding entrepreneurs. It may be considered to be a step in the direction of small businesses successful in urban areas reaching rural ones.
Agriculture sector initiative
India has had record production of cereals, fruits and vegetables in recent years. Our agricultural and food exports have crossed the magic figure of $50bn in 2021-22. However, agriculture contributes $500bn or more than 17 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). These figures stand testimony to the potential of agribusiness in rural areas that needs to be utilized for a significant contribution to the Indian economy and double-digit growth.
However, there has been no big achievement in agri and food business in rural areas. Infrastructure, product-specific business groups and a business ecosystem are being developed in rural areas as a result of the efforts made by the state governments and the Government of India. Many agri-incubation programmes and facilities have been established in public sector institutes in various parts of the country to identify and incubate start-ups. Taking a step forward, Nabard has launched a specific programme to facilitate agri exports from Maharashtra and Rajasthan. There are clear signs of change in the landscape of start-ups and agribusiness ecosystems in rural areas.
It is time the start-up scheme was promoted in agriculture and rural businesses. It may be clubbed together with other mega schemes like the establishment of 10,000 Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs), the inception of the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund (AIF) and the establishment of multi-state cooperative societies. Its aim is to boost agri and food businesses, collection, storage, processing and exports in rural and semi-urban areas. Besides, there is a need to focus on the modernization of rural businesses like handicrafts, khadi and agricultural tourism under the start-up scheme for the sake of quality and addressing the market challenges.
Over the last decade, we have seen a new wave of agri entrepreneurs and agritech start-ups that seek to transform the old farming system with innovative ideas, digital technology and cost-effective solutions. The new agritech start-ups serve as a link between farmers, input dealers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers. With the advantage of innovation and technology, agritech start-ups are creating new agribusinesses ranging from ICT apps to farm automation, from weather forecasts to drone applications, from input retailing to hiring implements and from market linkages to online marketing of fruits and vegetables.
Chak de India
In spite of all efforts, agri and food start-ups have a share of only 5 per cent in the total recognized start-ups over the last decade. It is time agritech start-ups were promoted in rural India so that it may be easier to go for quality production with the help of agricultural innovations and technology, to minimize the production cost for farmers and to adopt technology to find market for the farmers’ produce. There are some successful agritech start-ups, including Ninjacart, Waycool, AgroStar, DeHaat, Absolute and General Aeronautics, that are changing the way we do farming and food business in India.
(Bhagirath Choudhary is the Founder-Director of South Asia Biotechnology Centre and NABARD Agriculture Export Facilitation Centre, Jodhpur.)