Reflections From The ThinkAg Network And Challenges That Agtechs Must Solve Today
Updated: Apr 30, 2019
An insightful write up by Prabhat Chaturvedi,MD& CEO at Infinity Fincorp Solutions
I first heard about ThinkAg when my very good friend and mentor, Mr. Hemendra Mathur, invited me to attend a session on 14thFebruary at NABARD’s BKC office. I didn’t know much about the forum or their work, so was curious to attend and know more. Having attended it now, I believe ThinkAg provides a perfect platform for business incubation for agri-related start-ups, and such platforms must also be created for other non-agri start-ups.
ThinkAg basically brings following stakeholders under one roof
Promoters of start-ups
NABARD, the apex institutions for Govt’s agri-initiatives
Representatives of India's food and agri corporates
Representatives of Equity Investors (PE/VC/Angel etc)
Representatives of Debt providers (Banks/ NBFCs)
This potent combination allows the promoters to not only showcase their products/ ideas/ success to potential equity/ debt investors and apex enabler from Govt side, but also provides a platform to learn from each other’s success/ failures/ ideas and to seek answers to the questions lingering in their minds about business model/ use-cases etc. Needless to say, ThinkAg is also a powerful networking platform for people passionate about Agriculture and Agribusiness.
The format of the sessions, as well as the interactions there, was quite enlightening and I was positively surprised to see so many promoters working with bright idea and cutting-edge technology to solve real-life problems in today’s agriculture.
Though it was my first and only experience till date, but what I believe can be better at such future ThinkAg sessions, is more representation of Farmer bodies and the Agro Corporates, the people who are at the fore-front of agro businesses and are facing these real-life problems. Interactions with them will provide more ideas/ direction to these promoters as they will gain insights into major issues faced by the actual practitioners. This will channel promoters’ efforts in finding answers to major/ real challenges, and will also provide new ideas for future endeavours.
Following challenges/ ideas sprung to my mind while listening to that entire ThinkAg session:
CERSAI equivalent for Agricultural land:which integrates Govt land-records with Banks’ KCC data and provides area, name of owner(s), boundaries, location of the land, existing lender on that land, if any. Like CERSAI does for urban/ municipal area properties, this will be very useful for Banks/ NBFCs financing farmers against their agri land. Will make property identification easier; negate chances of double-financing/ fraud etc.
Accurate/ Near Accurate prediction of crop-wise, district-wise agricultural production and mandi-arrivals:though Govt as well as few companies try to predict it, but almost always there are major fluctuations as the process is largely by manual surveys. Can technology/ big-data/ weather data/ satellite imagery help solve this?
Warehouse-Hiring App:like we can find out flats available for rent through mobile apps like NoBroker/ MagicBricks, can we also map warehouse availability, address, space, rentals and booking through app, for storage of agri-commodities
Mobile Soil-testing kit:that has a testing-tool connected to a mobile app via wire/ Bluetooth, and provides data on soil-moisture and nutrient-deficiency/ excess. Integrated with smart drip-irrigation system, this can be hugely beneficial for fertigation of farms facing labour-shortages.
Water/fuel-conservation tools for flood-irrigated farms: water/ diesel being precious resources require judicious usage, it’s easier through smart drip/ sprinkler systems, but as majority farms in India are flood-irrigated, there’s a need for smart water-pumps that are connected to sensors in field, and can sense moisture-stress, need for irrigation, availability of electricity/ fuel and trigger the pumping when needed and stop the pump as soon as sensors indicate adequate moisture. This will stop wastage of water and diesel, over-irrigation risk to crop, will not require farmer/ labour to physically go and start pump when electricity is available, can also be operated by a mobile app through IOT tools.
Some of these ideas may sound impractical or cumbersome to build, but they address real problems faced by farmers, corporates and financiers. To summarize, my two cents for entrepreneurs/ promoters of these start-ups, is to spend as much time as possible with real practitioners in identifying the problem and in designing/ building the solution, and ThinkAg can become quite a powerful platform to achieve just that.
Prabhat is an experienced Agri / Rural Finance professional with a demonstrated history of fast-track growth while working with some of the best organizations in Indian financial services industry. He comes with strong business development as well as people skills. Risen through ranks from being a territory sales manager (fertilizers/ agrochemicals) to a branch-based relationship manager to Business Head of Agri & Priority Sector lending in leading Banks/NBFCs to now MD & CEO of a start-up NBFC promoted by True North (earlier known as India Value Fund Advisors).