The/Nudge Forum launched a 2-crore grand CISCO Agri Challenge on 18 December and kick-started mindful conversations on innovations for Indian farmers with discussions on how we can provide our farmers with their fair share through innovative technologies and collaborative solution-centric approach. The launch had prominent speakers namely Prof K. VijayRaghavan- Principal Scientific Advisor, Dr. Kalpana Shastry, G R Chintala-Chairman, NABARD, Alka Upadhyaya- Additional Secretary, MoRD, K. P. Krishnan- Chair Professor, NCAER, Charanjit Singh- Joint Secretary, NRLM, Ritu Verma- Co-founder, Ankur Capital Fund, Nipun Mehrotra- Founder, The Agri Collaboratory, Anil Kumar SG- Founder and CEO, Samunnati.

In an attempt to build a better future for our farmers, Cisco Agri-Challenge by The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation in partnership with the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Govt. of India aimed for a nation-wide, highly inspiring contest for AGRI-TECH start-ups. Sameer Garde, President of Cisco India addressed the launch and said “ The time to act on this vision has never been better and I believe startups, with technology serving as an ally and as an enabler, are best positioned to affect change where it is needed the most. And one such area is agriculture and India grapples with the twin challenges of low productivity and rapidly falling profitability. We’ve had probably one of the lowest farmer incomes in the world at around $1700 per farmer. And the stress on the farmers is rising due to declining favorable inputs. So the challenges in agriculture are, in my opinion, far too complex and picked from one person or one organization to solve. There is a lack of understanding. There are smallholdings, multiple stakeholders, infrastructure, connectivity, communication, diversity, type of land, the markets, etc where much can be done in this space and needs help.”

Stressing on the need to accelerate digital transformation in the agriculture sector, Garde continued “This actually needs the ecosystem approach whether it is startups, government technology companies, research institutes, industry bodies, individuals and cooperative society. There is a need to work together to harness the full potential of digitalization and AI and all of the new technology. We at Cisco focused on bringing the ecosystem together to make an impact where it matters the most. Given that talent is probably India’s biggest strength, we are committed to working with leaders and entrepreneurs to bring the benefits of digitization to all. We have various initiatives and platforms to do this.” 

Atul Satija, Founder & CEO of The/Nudge Foundation gave an overview of the Agri-challenge and started off by giving a background of the organization which started in 2015 as a non-profit poverty alleviation organization. During its inception five years ago, The/Nudge started working with underprivileged groups in skill development who migrated to cities from rural areas and the organization gave them skills and employability and put them in jobs. “While we are doing our own grassroots work in rural communities, the challenge is that Mahatma Gandhi’s quote ‘India lived in villages’ is true even today. The reality is that 86% of India’s farmers hold land less than 2 hectares. It is very difficult to make farming viable where their input cost is very high. The agriculture sector has grown but the income of the small farmers has not moved at par,” said Satija.

Prof K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to Govt of India delivered the keynote address and launched the 2Cr Agri-Challenge. Prof VijayRaghavan spoke extensively on how farming looks in India in terms of both crops and livestock and how Agri-Challenge plans to work along the lines of this challenge and issues of seed, water, soil, market, and livelihood. “We are caught up in a 20th century model in many aspects and need to go to a 21st-century model and how this challenge helps. First of all, we came here from the relentless use of humans in general. And while that has been extraordinary in terms of the growth of humanity and industry and farming we need to be differently innovative at this time. The reason we came here is that agriculture, the domestication of plants, the domestication of livestock allowed the growth of human societies but it became limiting because you could not cultivate more on the land because soil depleted.”

“The invention of the Haber-Bosch process allows the extraction of nitrogen from the atmosphere converting it to ammonia and this completely changed agricultural fertilizers, the relentless growth of agriculture, and also other technology. Technology completely transformed agriculture, in the early 20th century. The use of unlimited water allowed the growth of agriculture, into a major global industry. And this has absolutely transformed the world, but the minus side of this is that small farming, the diversity of food we eat, all of that started going down, globally.  Farming of small landholding hasn’t gone down in India, but there are substantial land holdings in India. While we constantly find out correctly that our holdings are small, increasing the size of our holdings along with the old 20th-century model. Whether holdings grow bigger or smaller, that’s economic aspects but we must be prepared for sustainable agriculture in terms of the land and environment. We have no alternative but to look at sustainable development through technology,” said the Professor.

Prof VijayRaghavan stressed the kind of technologies and how this challenge can revolutionize the agriculture sector. “There are shades of technologies which measure the quality of their seed, soil and look at the context of the livelihood. The market is a big determinant which we can see the ongoing dilemmas which are happening in the news today, but the market is the major factor. If the farmer is able to access markets, with all these decision-making and aggregation technologies available, then the farmer can make a profit. We’ve seen over the last few years, the dramatic growth of the startup industry. On the positive side size, they have grown on the periphery of our technology institutions and their scale to national and global acclaim. But we have not sufficiently opened the routes to the other areas which are socially and economically important. In other words, e-commerce is an area for their relatively easier growth, drones and AI are becoming more available in the urban sector for areas of growth. We should therefore change our structures and our relationships with academia, industry, and startup, to allow us to farm sectors become a big sector. This is what the challenge is doing.”

This Agri-challenge is envisioned as a prestigious inducement platform where the time for catalytic innovation is now which puts the needs of the farmer at the centre and grows momentum in the Agri-tech arena. “There are more than 25,000 farmer suicides happening in India every year even today. We cannot have a thriving agriculture sector with poor farmers and farmer suicides. The good news, however, is that we are at a stage in our country’s journey that this is very much possible. We have a large number of technologists, engineers, innovators and in the last 10 years, we have seen an insanely large amount of activity in our ecosystem. India’s Agri tech sector is already the second-largest in the world. There are opportunities and investments happening where there is a huge opportunity to record farm inputs whether it is on weather, soil, crop and there are organizations working in that area,” added Satija.