Why smallholder-focused last mile innovations are essential for India’s agricultural ecosystem and ally


In the Union budget 2021-2022, the Ministry of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmer Welfare was allocated Rs. 1,23,018 crore – a 14% increase over the 2019 budget -2020. India is primarily an agrarian economy, with almost 60% of the country’s population reportedly working in the agricultural sector. However, reaching smallholder farmers – especially those in remote areas of the country, where large numbers of farmers come from – remains a huge challenge.

These small farmers, who make up 70 percent of the agricultural workforce, operate less than five acres of land and often face product challenges and market risks. The fact that these small farmers come from marginalized and less literate communities poses further challenges to empowerment. The current need is therefore to fill these gaps, to understand the blockages at each level and to offer them technological innovations for their small plots, as well as quality products and services.

Speaking about the need for greater innovation to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in India, Ganesh Neelam, Executive Director of Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI), said: Innovators need to invest a fair amount of energy to understand the problems on the ground that smallholders face, which prevent them from progressing towards economic security..

The challenge of increasing agricultural output

Smallholder farmers are constantly plagued by low productivity. The challenge for them lies in accessing relevant information and the right agricultural inputs, real-time diagnosis of pests and diseases, all of which have a direct impact on productivity.

Farmers generally rely on traditional farming methods – inherited from their families or older members of the community. Many of these techniques are unscientific, unreliable, and often out of sync with newer and improved practices. Focusing on this problem, Satyukt – a satellite data analysis startup – created Sat2Farm, an Android-based app that provides personalized harvest advice based on real-time satellite and weather data. Although India has more rural internet users, thanks to smartphone penetration and lower data costs, the organization has also ensured that this information is made available via SMS.

On how the app solves the obstacles faced by small farmers, Yukti Gill, co-founder of Satyukt, said:For a technology solution to be effective for smallholder farmers, it must be affordable, easy to use, and the information provided must be actionable. Sat2Farm ticks all three boxes. In addition, these notices are available free of charge in many vernaculars for farmers to allow easy access.

Reduce product losses on the farm

The shortcomings of the agricultural ecosystem are not limited to low yield. Industry data and statistics indicate that postharvest losses can be as high as 40 percent. This is due to the long distances between collection and distribution points, the lack of cold stores and poor transportation, resulting in high levels of wastage. In addition, the pandemic and the lockdowns that followed had a huge impact on the logistics industry, reducing their access to rudimentary cold chain solutions.

At the heart of the problem is the lack of portability of cold chain solutions. “Centralized cold stores in India are a bit counter-intuitive to the demands of marginal farmers, given that they are primarily designed for bulk, single-temperature, long-term storage of crops and primarily potatoes. Earth.,Says Shiv Sharma, co-founder of Tan90, a startup that provides affordable and energy-efficient solutions for the storage and transport of perishable foodstuffs to small farmers.

“The need at the moment is a decentralized infrastructure, through cold stores, solar dryers and treatment units. This can help reduce post-harvest losses and increase farmers’ incomes, ”he adds.

Thanks to passive cooling technologies, a storage structure with a capacity of up to 1500 liters can be used to store fruits and vegetables at different temperatures. These storage units are coupled with a grid-powered freezer and solar energy, which keeps the cost of the project at only Rs 1 lakh for a storage capacity of one ton.

A transparent supply chain to engage all stakeholders, including customers

Decentralized infrastructure can also help farmers move their produce from the farm to the shelves of a supermarket. This is important for customers who value food traceability, where information of all the stages food has taken from its origin, through the supply chain, to the plate is available. Companies and customers are in fact willing to pay more for good quality organic products whose origins can be easily traced.

However, this is hampered by the fact that most farmers rely on the sale of their products at mandis. When the pandemic struck, the mandis became inoperative, disrupting the supply chain. No wonder huge quantities of product could not reach the customer. Trace X, an agrotech startup, has identified that the digitization of farms, traceability and connected supply chains are essential to reduce waste and improve linkages to the market and product quality. Their idea is to create a credible network of farmers, OPCs, processors, manufacturers, distributors and retailers who would transact for goods and services. This platform will be built on the basis of a blockchain architecture, offering buyers full visibility into the product and its quality, thus incentivizing all actors in the supply chain.

Income diversification by taking over related activities

For smallholder farmers, income from cultivation is insufficient to support their families and livelihoods. It is also necessary to supplement their income through the associated agricultural sector, which includes animal husbandry, goat rearing or fishing. This is the heart of the Lakhpati Kisan initiative, which strives to improve the lives of families in the tribal belts of central India by providing a variety of life choices.

However, the allied sector in India as a whole “has not seen sustained innovation, particularly in the areas of nutrition, market linkages and animal health.

“With over 535 million head of cattle, owned largely by marginal farmers, the sector has been a major source of cash income for these people,” said Sanjeev Kumar, founder of Pashu Bajaar, a startup based in Lucknow.

Trade in livestock products often depends on largely informal, inefficient and archaic processes. Neelkanth Mishra, founder and CEO of Jaljeevika, another startup working on innovations in the allied sector with a focus on aquaculture, echoes similar sentiments. In the fisheries sector, farmers need more support from experts. Unfortunately, only a handful of colleges offer such courses, thus limiting the availability of qualified professionals. In addition, infrastructure (cold chains and technological facilities) are located around marine areas, while freshwater regions remain untapped and underdeveloped.

Pashu Bajaar and Jaljeevika are working to fill these gaps in the Allied Sector. ‘Pashu Bajaar is focusing on partnering with cattle ranchers to build a supply chain that connects village-level and cluster-level breeding centers for bulk marketing. Jaljeevika works with small, marginalized farming communities to create a culture of micro-entrepreneurship throughout the fisheries value chain. They also developed an IoT sensor-based water quality measurement toolkit to provide location-specific aquaculture advice to farmers. Innovations like these can provide new, sustainable and diverse sources of family income for smallholder farmers.

Pashu Bajaar and Jaljeevika

Cisco – powering an inclusive future for all

As agro-tech startups like Satyukt, TraceX, Tan90, Jaljeevika, and Pashu Bajaar strive to deliver innovative solutions to small-scale Indian farmers, they need collaborations with ecosystem partners to fuel those solutions. These startups are supported by Cisco India CSR and Social Alpha Scaling Acceleration Program Krishi Mangal.

Speaking about how these technological innovations can help the farming community in India, Mr. Harish Krishnan, Managing Director & Policy Director, Cisco India & SAARC said, “At Cisco, our vision is to create an inclusive future for all. IoT sensors for soil quality, weather mapping models, disparities between water levels and inventory management, the impact of technology can be transformational for those who need it most, raising the bar life and promoting economic development. innovate and play a pivotal role in solving some of the industry’s biggest challenges. ”

To empower these organizations and small farmers, Cisco provided remote sensors and data analysis tools to optimize the agricultural supply chain. Additionally, artificial intelligence tools can help optimize irrigation plans. When combined with machine learning, farmers can then assess crop details and water levels and estimate crop yields, allowing them to make informed decisions with confidence.

In addition, tools like these can provide farmers with precise scientific data to manage irregularities in supply and demand, help reduce waste and create better incomes for some of the most vulnerable farming communities in the world. India.

A similar momentum motivates’ CInI’s Executive Director, Ganesh Neelam. “The focus on adopting technology for smallholder farmers requires agri-tech companies to engage and work hand-in-hand with them, as well as the training of local micro-entrepreneurs to provide the technology to all farmers. Systematic manner Timely delivery of quality and affordable technologies is key for the smallholder to thrive, which will also create business for agrotech social enterprises, ”he said.

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