Intelligent Farming

13th November 2015, BUSINESS STANDARD

Farming and agriculture are crying out for business model innovation. India is not short of good farmers, funds, schemes or experts and, in a sense, has too much of these valuable resources;

13th November 2015, BUSINESS STANDARD

Farming and agriculture are crying out for business model innovation. India is not short of good farmers, funds, schemes or experts and, in a sense, has too much of these valuable resources; the country needs a unified framework to execute actions in a coordinated manner.

Election fever and Deepavali are behind us, so it is time for mundane things. Humble pulses have become a pulsating national issue. Over the years several commentators, including the present writer, have anticipated the impending crisis; however, as with other crises, each recurrence delivers its own message.

The urban excitement about start-ups, entrepreneurship and innovation is totally absent in farming. Try compiling a repertoire of ‘bottom of the pyramid’ innovation articles on farming. Agri-business correspondents write very reasoned columns. However policy makers seem more interested in lofty programs with little reference to the farming sector. Logically Digital India should connect progressive farmers with smart phones; agriculture should be a Make in India candidate because it delivers 15% of India’s exports, valued at $ 40 billion; agriculture should be a Skills Mission candidate because it employs 260 million people, over half of India’s workforce. Experts suggest that India’s agricultural exports can be double to $ 80 billion, and that the increased output can be produced by fewer, better-trained farm workers.

In a recent article, Narendra Pratap Singh, Director of the Indian Institute of Pulses Research, Kanpur concluded: “It is not lack of research as much as policy support that is presently missing in pulses.” The message from this senior scientist seems to be, ‘The pulses problem is not because of us scientists; the problem is with regard to policy and inter departmental coordination.’ Truth be told, apart from technology, the business model (=way of doing things) can be a huge source of innovation. Farming and agriculture are crying out for business model innovation.

So what is the farming problem? Is India short of good farmers, funds, schemes or experts? Not at all. India in fact has too much of these valuable resources; but they work in an uncoordinated and unfocused manner. As pointed out in a recent book (The Silo Effect, Gillian Tett, Little Brown, 2015),”Silos are cultural phenomena…they arise because social groups have particular conventions about how to classify the world…people tend to assume that their way of behaving is natural and the way other people behave is not…occasionally we can imagine a different way of organizing our world.”

Farming and agriculture need an alternative national framework. If you search for an explicit National Agricultural Policy, similar to India’s Industrial Policy Resolution of 1950s, you will encounter a strange phenomenon–the NDA government may mention a 2005 UPA draft, which anyway needs updating.

Sixty items such as law and order, police and agriculture are pure state subjects under our constitution; if so, what is the Union Agriculture Minister accountable for? The country needs an Agriculture Czar, who has to do different things, differently–intelligent and innovative agriculture. Implementation of a collaborative program with the States can replicate the dramatic results achieved by three earlier agricultural revolutions—food grains, milk and poultry. It is an innovation priority that the nation cannot keep waiting for. What can be done?

Dr YSP Thorat, former CMD of NABARD, and I have co-authored a paper titled Sarthak Krishi Yojana, which is accessible.**The paper suggests a coherent framework to transform agriculture and is inspired by the national industrialization experiences through five pillars–technology, risk, institutionalization, policy and skills. Some of its ideas: adopt a formal technology policy with regard to soil health, crop protection chemicals, crop nutrients and seeds; second, actively promote Sec 8 companies in which farmers can be shareholders, a bit like the SME equivalent for farmers; third, set up ATTIs, a bit like the ITIs, to promote advanced skills for the farm; fourth, as part of Digital India, connect up 10 million progressive farmers to access knowledge, experiences, markets and technology.

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