Technology is effective only when it reaches farmers, say experts

Technology should reach farmers, only then it will  reflect positive changes, according to panellists at the opening session of VCCircle Agri & Food Investment Summit 2015 held in Mumbai on Wednesday. 

More than 260 agriculture entrepreneurs and investors attended six sessions led by 38 panellists.

The opening panel moderated by Girish Nadkarni, partner, IDFC Alternatives, started off with a discussion on why the food and agriculture sector needs digital innovation at food input level and how investment in that segment will boost farm output and solve the problem of food deficiency. The panel witnessed active participation from Krishna Kumar, founder and CEO, CropIn Technology Solutions; Adwitiya Mal, co-founder and COO, EM3 AgriServices Pvt Ltd; Karthic Ravindranath, director, Surya PowerMagic; and VT Bharadwaj, managing director at Sequoia Capital India.

"There is no dearth of technology  in the market but the need of the hour is finding the right channel to make technology available to the masses," Mal of EM3 AgriServices said. 

"Another challenge is to make the farmer understand that technology is helpful for him. You need a bottom-up approach," Krishna Kumar of CropIn Technology said. 

"India will never have the kind of farm scale that countries like US have. We should start focusing on information coming back to farmers who are our source," Bharadwaj of Sequoia Capital said. 

"Technology like WhatsApp is helping farmers come together through discussing problems over a common forum," Ravindranath of Surya PowerMagic said. "The industry should not just focus on technology alone but help farmers evolve," Mal of EM3 AgriServices said in agreement with Bharadwaj's statement. 

For better returns, the industry players have to learn to make money by filling the gaps in the agriculture sector. "We need to digitise farming in order to monetise it," Bharadwaj said. 

The need for focused efforts by the government was also emphasised in the keynote address by Ireena Vittal, former partner at McKinsey & Co, who is an expert on the Indian agriculture and urban change. "We spend close to Rs 2,00,000 crore every year on agriculture subsidy but invest less than Rs 10,000 crore in the sector annually," Vittal said. According to her, a key challenge the country is facing is not lack of money, but lack of balance between subsidy and investments. 

Slow government action and old methods of working are also hampering the growth of the agriculture sector. "The real issue for us is how to move away from a subsidy regime. We should definitely subsidise the poor but the mix has to change. The big challenges in this sector are from food regulations being archaic and access on pricing being a huge risk. This kind of regime is not conducive to good returns," Vittal said, adding, "Technology will bring down supply chain costs and innovation is extremely important." 

"People who are able to innovate and build a platform on technology will be able to lead the market ultimately," Vittal said.

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