Agri Business

Bengaluru-based foundation launches agri-tech solutions contest for start-ups

Subramani Ra Mancombu Chennai | Updated on April 15, 2021

Targets to help benefit one crore farmers

Non-governmental organisation (NGO) The /Nudge Foundation has launched a competition for start-ups, Cisco Agri Challenge (CAC), as part of its efforts to try and reach agri-tech solutions to one crore farmers in the country.

The/Nudge Foundation is holding CAC in partnership with US multinational technology firm Cisco System and the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India.

Sudha Srinivasan, CEO, The/Nudge Foundation, told BusinessLine that CAC would offer a price platform that would provide farmer-centric solutions. “The solutions should be ideas that can be executed on the ground, create an area and curate ringside of viewers who will contribute,” she said.

This would spark innovation in agriculture and help farmers get higher income, the Bengaluru-based NGO CEO said.

The/Nudge Foundation, founded in 2017 as an incubator for start-ups, is looking to draw the talent of founders of such start-ups. It has so far worked with over 80 start-ups in areas where they face a lot of problems in agri-tech and education sectors.

The CAC was launched in December 2018 by Principal Scientific Adviser to the Centre Prof K Vijaya Raghavan with a prize money of ₹2 crore. Besides the prize money, the start-ups will be helped by venture capitalists, business leaders, knowledge partners, technology partners and political advisors.

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“The main objective is to draw talent, capital and public attention to under-served thematic areas. This will help people create opportunities large social change. It is kind of motivation and provide momentum to make it aspirational for young people to commit their lives in solving critical issues,” Srinivasan said.

A primary reason for The/Nudge Foundation to launch CAC is that economic returns from the agriculture sector are less than 13 per cent when 57 per cent of the country’s population depends on it. This has resulted in poverty stagnation and the NGO sees agri-tech as a fertile playing field that can help revive the Indian economy.

It has $24.1 billion potential over the next five years with $450 million investments flowing in the first half of last year in agri-tech start-ups.

Thus, CAC will spark farmer-centric innovation that improves the economic, social and environmental outcomes in Indian Agriculture, she said.

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The start of CAC was promising with 1,024 registering for the challenge and presenting 844 business plans. This was pruned to top 100 pitches by an eminent jury comprising among others Ashok Dalwai, National Rainfed Area Authority CEO, and Mark Kahn, co-founder of Omnivore.

“The jury has narrowed down the list to the top 25. We will enable access to a lot of research and know-how from academic institutions (for these short-listed ventures). It will bridge the silos from academia and action,” she said.

The short-listed firms — which offer a variety of solutions from apps to form a group for collective negotiations to precision agriculture to managing water resources — will then get “Go-to -market support”.

“Start-up stage entrepreneurs will find it difficult to find even the first 100 farmers. Adoption of ideas needs a lot of trust. There are barriers in selling your ideas. We will enable partnerships with incubators, universities like the one in Telangana and other institutions to cover a lot of distance over the next three months (through the Go-to-market initiative),” Srinivasan said.

A lot of distance will be covered in the next three months. In July, another round of pitching and demonstrations will be made based on which five grants of ₹15 lakh each. Most of the start-ups who will be in the running would cover the next crop cycle between July and January and show evidence of the potential of their ideas to teach one crore farmers, The/Nudge Foundation CEO said.

“The challenge is for a potential to reach one crore farmers. Potential will be assessed by an eminent jury,” she said, adding that an intensive curation process was being followed to find the winners, looking among things the merit of the idea and its founding team.

The contesting start-ups would also raise an equal amount or more funding during the process.

This would help lucrative ideas gain in the portfolio of agri-investors, while the process to attract new talent and a lot of new capital will also be possible.

The start-ups will also get technology backing of firms such as Cisco, which would support the founders with its own team. Globally acclaimed universities such as Purdue University of the US and the Netherlands Wageningen University will strengthen offering engineering and other solutions such as cutting down use of fertilisers and pesticides.

“Technology is another element of support for the start-ups,” Srinivasan added.

Scheme for marginal farmers

The/Nudge Foundation has launched Centre for Rural Development (CRD) that has begun work in Jharkhand with the objective to reduce poverty and tackle other issues such as healthcare arising out of it among marginal and small farmers, who are the most vulnerable in the society.

The foundation is following the approach that won Abhijeet Banerjee and Esther Duflo the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2019.

“This is based on a three-pronged approach — providing food security, skills development and asset of production to farmers. The asset of production is by helping farmers take on poultry or head of cattle or goats,” the foundation CEO said.

The programme, covering the “ultra-poverty’ segment in 80 villages of Jharkhand, has been in the works for nearly three years and yielded good results.

Families involved in this earn less than ₹20,000 a year and belong to the “particularly vulnerable tribal group”. So far, 1200-plus households and over 5,000 individuals have benefited from this CRD initiative.

It has been mostly women in generating sustainable livelihood through livestock rearing and small-scale farming.

The scheme is all set to be extended to seven districts of Uttar Pradesh and scaled further in the next five years with the government partnering it. The/Nudge Foundation is targeting to bring 2.5 lakh households under this programme.

The foundation will also be investing in and implementing agriculture support for small and marginal farmers to solve issues such as producing surplus crops, cultivating higher value crops, dealing with weather and soil fluctuations, improving farm inputs, achieving right pricing and market linkages. It would help improve their income.

“With Covid pandemic resulting in reverse migration, aspiring youth need more options. We will be soon announcing a very ambitious, large programme in Uttar Pradesh soon,” Srinivasan added.

Published on April 15, 2021

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