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Agritech Start-ups: The ray of hope in Indian agriculture

IBEF, Knowledge Centre

Jan 13, 2021 16:03

Overview

More than half of India’s population depends on agriculture as a primary source of livelihood. The agricultural sector contributes ~20% to the national GDP. The export market for agricultural products is vast; agricultural product exports amounted to Rs. 2,84,000 crore (US$ 38.54 billion) in FY19-20. India is the largest producer, consumer and exporter of spices in the world. According to the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), a cumulative Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) equity inflow of about Rs. 67,000 crore (US$ 9.08 billion) was achieved between April 2000 and March 2019 in the agriculture sector alone. However, the sector is plagued by several structural challenges, with inadequate capital influx and operational gaps being the most critical ones. As a result, numerous interventions are being introduced by several stakeholders in the form of agricultural technology start-ups, better known as agritech start-ups, in the recent years.

Start-up Momentum in India

There are more than 450 Indian start-ups in the agritech space with Indian start-ups featuring among one in every nine companies globally. Some of the major start-ups in the sector include Agrostar, Cropin, Jumbotail, Ninjacart and Stellops. The sector has been growing at a fast pace owing to a rise in the number of emerging agritech start-ups and investments, showcasing interest in the Indian agritech start-up scene globally. According to NASSCOM, these start-ups attracted funding from top investors such as Accel, Ankur Capital, Omnivore and others. Start-ups raised ~Rs. 1,825 crore (US$ 248 million) as of June 2019. Overall growth of the agritech sector is assisting adoption and acceptance of newer technologies.

Business Opportunities and Innovative Solutions

The agritech sector has made way for several market opportunities in India, especially in developing and refining market linkages. These developments include taking farmer products directly to consumers, digitising agriculture, improving accessibility to real-time information for farmers, increasing transparency across the value chain, providing better-quality implements to farmers to increase yields and offering micro-financing options to farmers to manage risks. All these solutions indicate that improving supply chain is a key focus area for agritech start-ups, with the underlying goal of increasing farmer share in profits from crop sales.

Key Players and Business Models

Various business models have emerged to tackle opportunities in the agricultural space. These can be categorised into five main buckets:

  • Upstream marketplace model – Agrostar, BigHaat, Agrevolution, Agronxt, Ninjacart, Agrihub and FarmGuru are the main players employing this model
  • Downstream ‘farm-to-fork’ supply chain model – Krishi Star, Crofarm, Sabziwala and BharatBazar are start-ups working towards increasing efficiencies using this mechanism
  • Farming-as-a-service model – Far Mart, EM3 Agri Services, RAVGO and Oxen are players offering farm equipment rentals to ease the burden of capital investments for farmers
  • IoT or Big Data-led innovation model – FlyBird, Cropin and Exabit Systems are deploying smart technology to assist farmers gain access to timely information and drive productivity
  • Engineering led-innovation model – Kheyti, Drip, Kamal Kisan and Nanopix are players driving innovative solutions in this space

With start-ups and investments mushrooming this space, several public-private partnerships have been realised in the recent years. Cropin and Kisan Raja are two agritech start-ups that have established such partnerships with considerable success, according to NASSCOM.

Funding and Investment Activity

India’s agritech start-ups have been growing at 25% YoY. The start-ups have raised more than Rs. 1,840 crore (US$ 250 million) in venture funding in 2019. This was three times the amount of funding raised in 2018. The sector is forecast to attract more than Rs. 3,680 crore (US$ 500 million) in the next few years. Aavishkaar, Accel, Ankur Capital, Beenext and Omnivore were early investors in the sector. More recently, we witnessed funds such as Blume, Nexus, Sequoia, Tiger Global and RTP investing in the sector.

In 2020, more than 20 agritech start-ups have cumulatively raised more than Rs. 920 crore (US$ 125 million) across equity, venture debt and conventional debt rounds. Some of the notable equity rounds are listed in the table below:

Startup

Model

Funding Till Date
(US$ million)

Latest Round

Key Investors

Arya Collateral

Warehousing and Supply Chain

9.3

Pre-Series B

LGT, Aspada, Omnivore

Bijak

B2B Marketplace

14.6

Series A

RTP, Omidyar, Better Capital, Surge, Omnivore

Clover

Warehousing and Supply Chain

6.9

Series A

Accel, Omnivore, Mayfield

Crofarm

B2B E-commerce

4.9

Seed

Smile group

DeHaat

Full Stack

16.5

Series A

Sequoia, FMO, Pi

Ergos

Warehousing and Supply Chain

6.3

Series A

Aavishkaar Capital

IntelloLabs

Image recognition (Agronomy)

8.8

Series A

Saama, Nexus, SVG

Jai Kisan

Full Stack

6

Seed

Arkam, Blume,
Better Capital

Kisan Network

B2B Marketplace

3.5

Series A

Misteltoe, YC, Foundersclub, Thiel Foundation

Procol

SaaS – Cloud based procurement software

4.8

Series A

Surge, Blume, Beenext

Vegrow

Big Data & Farmer Analytics

2.5

Seed

Matrix Partners, Ankur Capital, Titan Capital

WayCool

E-Distributor (B2B)

65.7

Series C

Lightbox,
FMO, Aspada

 

Government Schemes and Initiatives

The government has been a catalyst in the growth of the agritech sector. It has established the National Centre for Management and Agricultural Extension in Hyderabad (MANAGE). In addition, the Department of Science and Technology, GOI, organised a food and agri-business accelerator in association with a-IDEA, TBI of NAARM. The focus area of this programme was accelerating agri-business start-ups by providing mentoring, industry network and investor pitching guidance.

The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) was also introduced and implemented recently, with a major focus on conserving water and increasing irrigation coverage in the country. Under this scheme, Rs. 56,340 crore (US$ 7.64 billion) has been allocated for investments in end-to-end solutions on source creation, distribution, management, field application and extension activities. The government is also planning to grant Rs. 2,000 crore (US$ 270 million) for computerisation of the Primary Agricultural Credit Society (PACS), with the primary aim of benefitting cooperatives through the digital technology.

The Indian govt. has lent a strong impetus on this sector and aims to double the income of farmers by 2022. Another initiative is the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA), which facilitates retrieval of data and data entry from web-based portals via a regular mobile phone (without using the Internet). They are operationalising more than a dozen services of innovative technologies, such as USSD, for farmers and other stakeholders in the supply chain. In addition, there have been many favourable government policies and initiatives such as PM-KISAN, PM-AASHA and PM-KMY among others that are uplifting farmers and benefitting stakeholders across the value chain. It seems that agritech is now uniquely poised for disruption via technology.

The Road Ahead…

Overall, the Indian agritech sector has huge untapped potential. Agritech seems to have reached that inflection point where it is gaining significant momentum among venture capitalists and government grants. Agriculture is an important industry in India’s economy and start-ups are playing a pivotal role in easing the burden on farmers by digitising the entire supply chain with use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, internet of things, Big Data analytics and engineering innovations. The transparency and operational efficiencies being introduced and implemented are transforming India’s agricultural landscape.

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