The Indian Government’s proposal to deliver hi-tech services to farmers through public private partnerships (PPPs), recently presented in its annual budget, is likely to offer critical support for the agricultural sector at a time when it is greatly needed.
The COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine has massively disrupted the global food system, putting huge pressure on agriculture-focussed countries like India to provide more sustainable options.
This is where agricultural technology could prove key. India has potential economic value of $50-65 billion through digital agriculture by 2025 translating to 23% addition to the current value of agricultural produce, according to a report by the country’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and McKinsey & Company.
Such investment can also have a significant impact beyond the economy. With 60% of India’s agricultural land being rain-fed, climate change poses a critical threat to food and agricultural systems.
So using agricultural technology and precision tools will be more important than ever to prevent hunger and eliminate food waste, and making these technologies more available to India’s 130 million smallholder farmers can ensure greater financial resilience for them.
As new technologies present a major opportunity to transform agricultural systems, every stakeholder must play a role in realizing this potential. This is where public private partnerships (PPPs) will be vital.
Public private partnerships key to leveraging agricultural technologies
Public private partnerships involve collaborations between a government agency and private sector body to finance, build and deliver a public asset or service. They combine the strength of the government’s mandate and ability to deliver public services, with the private sector responsible for investments, technology, products and distribution systems.
Under a PPP model for agriculture, a start-up ecosystem can drive emerging tech innovations and agile business models, while universities and research institutions can bring in domain level agricultural expertise and help validate the solutions for scaled deployments. In addition, the role of farmer producer organizations (FPOs) and non-governmental organizations are critical for building capacity and extending digital products and services to farmers.
Agricultural technology revolution needed
To realize the opportunity of emerging technologies for agriculture and food systems much change is needed. For instance, it will be critical to develop a flexible framework/handbook for defining a PPP approach through multi-stakeholder consultations, which can then be adopted by states to meet specific priorities.
Working with academic and research institutions, a partnership approach for innovators should also be enabled to co-develop solutions and evolve a qualification approach, instead of the selection approach of current procurement models.
There should also be a time-framed approach for opening the agriculture data ecosystem with appropriate personal data protection measures, developed in partnership with states and industry partners. Overall, large agricultural players should work to enable a platform for pooling resources and funds to support the agricultural technology initiatives and scale them in PPP mode.
Since the budget announcement of hi-tech services for farmers through a PPP approach, there is a need of launching this initiative in mission mode. National and state governments can strengthen the dialogue with private stakeholder ecosystem and establish the PPP framework through consultations and evidence-based learning through pilots.
Overall, it is an excellent opportunity to revisit policy level support for innovation and for changing the landscape of agriculture.
Jayesh Ranjan, Principal Secretary, Industries and Commerce, Government of Telangana
Purushottam Kaushik, Head, Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum