India is largely termed as an agrarian economy, with about 50 percent of the Indian population earning a source of livelihood from it. However, the coronavirus-led lockdown hit the farming community and impacted their livelihood adversely.
The first phase of the complete lockdown had a prominent impact due to the restrictions imposed on transport and logistics, supply chain, and shutting down of local markets.
Even after the announcement of lockdown 2.0, there was a restricted movement of agricultural machinery, shortage of essential agrochemicals, and other hindrances in the entire supply process.
To get through the pandemic situation, a stimulating package of a whopping Rs 1.63 crore was announced by the government to revive the sector’s growth. The amendment of the Essential Commodities Act also poises as a strong effort to bolster the farming community by deregulating cereals, pulses, onions, and potatoes.
Moreover, the option for farmers to trade online has resulted in a massive growth of agritech startups. These startups are creating channels that allow farmers to choose their market and sell their produce at better prices.
These agritech startups are bringing innovation to keep the sector functional. With the integration of new-age technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and remote sensing, startups are offering immediate solutions in streamlining the supply process, and helping the farmers to produce more efficiently.
There are nearly 450 agritech startups in India, and according to the estimates of FICCI, these startups are growing at 25 percent yearly. In the initial phase of the lockdown, several startups struggled to survive in the market. However, a few weeks later, the sector started to stabilise even faster than pre-COVID times.
In fact, several of them are transforming the agriculture landscape in India, which has been disrupted due to the pandemic situation. This has led to the opening up of an immense network of opportunities to drive the sector sustainably.
Unlike other businesses, there is a clear V-shaped recovery in the agriculture sector as farmers are being more open to adopting new-age technologies and practices to keep their farming cycle running.
To remove the disruption from the food supply chain, the agritech startups are stepping up in redesigning the farming ecosystem.
Hydroponic / soil-less farming
Eating healthy during the pandemic has become crucial. People are becoming more aware of their eating habits and food to prevent infections and build strong immunity.
Further, several agritech startups have stepped onto hydroponic and soil-less farming techniques, which demands less-operations, space, and produces nutritious food, using the highest level of hygiene.
In fact, being one of the most efficient farming methods, hydroponic is a resilient option in the pandemic situation. Unlike conventional methods, it takes less time to grow the vegetables, offers better food security, and fills the demand-supply gap quickly.
While the supply of food had been severely affected due to movement restrictions amidst the lockdown, this allowed many agritech startups, specialising in hydroponic farming, to create highly productive and sustainable farming models for the new-age farmers.
Additionally, they also started offering end-to-end farm management solutions to impart technical training to the new-age farmers and run a farm efficiently.
The smart farming model
The transition from traditional farming experiences to managing a farm using new-age technology has led to incredible results. Using IoT-enabled systems, farmers can manage growth factors, optimise produce, and labour on their field.
It also helps them monitor crops, weather conditions, and soil quality, as well as adjusting indoor growth factors, that can optimise crop yields for efficient production.
Smart farming model is still an emerging concept in India that makes sensors, data analytics, software, and many other tools available to farmers.
The implementation of artificial intelligence and IoT in agriculture during the pandemic offered more efficient ways of producing, monitoring, and selling crops. It also presented a new universe of farming to sustain a farmers’ living.
Since the farmers have to fulfil a huge demand, agritech startups have come up with precision-based sowing techniques. There are AI-based apps for predicting weather conditions and determining the right time to sow seeds with precision, to ensure better growth and minimise the wastage. The self- reliant IoT-enabled apps leverage sensors that monitor the health of the crop and soil.
For instance, many farmers are incorporating drones equipped with a camera and sensors for field inspection, that draws up insights to determine crop condition, irrigation, and damage caused by weeds and pests, among others.
Effective supply chain
The initial phase of the lockdown led to extreme difficulty in keeping and trading the food. The restrictions on intra-state and inter-state movement unsettled the supply chain process. However, post the lockdown, many agritech startups have revolutionised the concept of physical marketplaces for farmers to sell their produce.
With the concept of an online marketplace, the startups are offering robust end-to-end supply chain management, which allows farmers to directly sell their produce to consumers and even retailers at a better price.
The model of e-aggregator and marketplace works closely with resellers and farmers. It lets the farmer upload their produce online, and once the order is received, they facilitate doorstep pickup with compliance to social distancing norms. It also benefits MNCs and small-scale industries in procuring the items to sell in the market.
During the ongoing pandemic, agritech startups are playing a critical role by bringing innovation to remove disruption, and solve challenges hampering the growth of the farming community.
Many technology-based players are using artificial intelligence, IoT, and big data to improve the crop cycle and harvest quality, while others are making use of machine learning and blockchain technologies to solve credit and payment issues for farmers.