Decoding Agricultural Technology with Parmesh Shah

Rathish Balakrishnan speaks to Mr. Parmesh Shah, the Global Lead for Data, Digital Agriculture and Innovation at the Agriculture and Food Global Practice of the World Bank.

Decoding Agricultural Technology with Parmesh Shah

TLDR: The key idea of the video is that integrating physical, digital, and financial solutions is crucial for scaling innovations in agricultural technology and improving smallholder farmers’ access to resources and services.

00:00 🌾 Despite government support and promising tailwinds, the low adoption of agritech by farmers in India remains a challenge, with only around one percent penetration; integrating physical, digital, and financial solutions is crucial for scaling innovations in agricultural technology and improving smallholder farmers’ access to tractors, pay-as-you-go services, energy, and food processing.

1.1 Agritech has the potential to revolutionize Indian agriculture, but despite promising tailwinds and government support, the low adoption of technology by farmers remains a major challenge, with agritech penetration in India at only around one percent.
1.2 There is a lot of innovation happening in the agricultural sector, with investments in digital technologies to digitize farmers, plots, crop experiments, and provide access to services, market access, and digital finance for smallholders, but the challenge lies in scaling these innovations.
1.3 The challenge in agricultural technology is to integrate physical, digital, and financial solutions in order to provide comprehensive services to smallholders, and the key to achieving scale is for data and innovation platforms to come together.
1.4 The speaker discusses the different categories of solutions that can be classified as agricultural technology and provides a global perspective on the overall landscape of agricultural technology.
1.5 Precision agriculture, accessing markets, financial services, climate smart services, and mechanization are the key categories of agricultural technology discussed in the video.
1.6 The speaker discusses the importance of agricultural technology in improving smallholder farmers' access to tractors, pay-as-you-go services, energy, and food processing, highlighting the need for convergence of these solutions and the challenges in adoption.

10:47 🌱 The agricultural technology market is rapidly growing, with a focus on bundling input supply and digital extension services, but successful adoption depends on a combination of physical and digital solutions, as well as improved connectivity and infrastructure.

2.1 The category that is moving the fastest in agricultural technology is the bundling of input supply and digital extension services.
2.2 The market for agricultural technology is growing rapidly, particularly in the areas of market access services, commodity-related services, and digital finance solutions for producer companies and small farmers.
2.3 In certain geographies with better digitization, connectivity, and organized farmers, there is successful adoption of agricultural technology, while in remote areas with limited connectivity and infrastructure, it will take more time for technology to be implemented.
2.4 Physical and digital solutions need to be combined for agricultural technology to be successful, as pure digital play will not generate revenue, and there is a challenge in reaching the majority of farmers who are not digitally connected or financially stable.
2.5 The speaker discusses the need for a combination of physical and digital infrastructure in various sectors, such as healthcare and education, and highlights the importance of providing support to motivated children who may not have access to resources, using the example of edtech.
2.6 Mobile-based solutions are reducing the digital divide and enabling faster and more customized service delivery, with the potential for further breakthroughs with broader broadband connectivity.

17:00 🌱 Young entrepreneurs are using digital applications to improve access to inputs and markets for farmers, while also considering the needs of older generations, and implementing models like digitally ordering customized precision fertilizer in Kenya that could benefit smallholders in India.

3.1 Young entrepreneurs are using digital applications to organize inputs and market access for farmers, but it is important to also cater to the older generation who may prefer physical resources.
3.2 In Kenya, farmers are able to digitally order and receive customized precision fertilizer through a sensor and have it delivered to their doorstep, a model that could be implemented in India to benefit smallholders.
3.3 Efficient delivery of inputs and finance in agriculture can be achieved through digital banking correspondents, leveraging the existing digital public infrastructure in the country.
3.4 Investing in a platform that allows agricultural technology experts to access public data will enable them to focus on developing innovative products and services, leading to growth and success in the industry.
3.5 Supporting the government's Agri data stack and digitizing organizations like FPS and cooperatives can create a platform for growth and development of products and services, leading to improved lives for farmers and increased turnover.
3.6 Value the principle of providing a good seamless experience to a small world apartment.

24:05 🌾 Prioritizing digital infrastructure, leveraging existing public infrastructure, and focusing on value-added services for farmers are key in addressing challenges of agricultural technology adoption, while customization, accessibility, and investment in digital skills can overcome scalability issues and achieve widespread impact.

4.1 Prioritizing a seamless and cost-effective digital infrastructure, leveraging existing public infrastructure, utilizing last mile catalysts, digitizing cooperatives, and focusing on value-added services for farmers are key factors in addressing the challenges of agricultural technology adoption.
4.2 Developing probabilistic models of service delivery and implementing a public-private partnership for digitally enabled customized agricultural services can solve the issues of demotivation and delayed service delivery, while also emphasizing the need for a customer-facing approach in the current agriculture extension system.
4.3 To create a successful agricultural system, it is essential to provide farmers with support in finance, extension services, and e-commerce platforms, allowing them to showcase their produce and receive export orders, while also addressing their pain points and improving backend services.
4.4 The lack of customization and physical accessibility, along with the need for digital service delivery platforms and digitized assets, hinders the scalability of agricultural technology, but by investing in digital skills and entrepreneurship, India can overcome these challenges and achieve widespread impact.
4.5 Farmers need digitally enabled facilitation and an ideal farmer environment where they have access to a few Agri entrepreneurs in their locality, creating market pressure for better services and a focus on customer intimacy.
4.6 The speaker discusses the concept of a platform and its role in enabling value for users, specifically in the context of agriculture technology, with a focus on data and services, and mentions the World Bank's support for the "agrees stack" platform.

35:07 🌱 80% of Kenyan farmers’ pain points were identified and 24 innovators were selected to address these challenges through a platform that facilitates interaction between data agencies and farmers, incentivizing efficient service delivery and aiming for 100% coverage in Kenya.

5.1 80% of Kenyan farmers were surveyed to identify their pain points, and then a challenge was presented to innovators to address these challenges, resulting in the selection of 24 innovators through a rigorous process involving farmer voting and collaboration with farmer organizations, entrepreneurs, government, and various institutions.
5.2 The platform facilitates interaction between data agencies and farmers, providing access to digital registries, weather data, and satellite data, reducing acquisition costs and incentivizing performance for solution providers.
5.3 Entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector are being incentivized to deliver services efficiently through a platform that provides access to research data, technical assistance, and funding from various stakeholders, resulting in a collaborative effort to provide end-to-end services to farmers.
5.4 Enclave is a technology platform that aims to remove pain points for startups and farmers by providing essential services, and with the help of Mercy Corps, they are working towards achieving 100% coverage in Kenya within the next few years.
5.5 Investing in digital public infrastructure is not enough; the government needs to invest in a platform and ecosystem to support data policies, startup encouragement, public-private partnerships, and service delivery for agricultural technology.
5.6 The layers of agricultural technology include the data layer, advisory layer, product layer, discovery and incentive layer, agriculturally people layer, and the farmer benefits from these systems, demonstrating the importance of showcasing the required changes for the government to adopt the technology.

43:38 🌱 Different types of capital are needed to support the growth of agricultural technology startups, including high-risk capital, public capital, and market capital, with a focus on customized financial investment, patient capital, and a platform-based approach.

6.1 Different types of capital, including high-risk capital, public capital, and market capital, are needed to solve different problems and support the growth of startups in the agricultural technology sector.
6.2 Debt is sometimes preferred over equity in agricultural technology due to inflated returns, and the lack of patient capital is limiting the number of companies able to reach series B and C funding.
6.3 In order to support the growth of agricultural startups, there is a need for customized delivery of financial investment and patient capital, alongside public capital, to attract more entrepreneurs to the sector.
6.4 Agencies need to create a new form of investment to fund CDJ and Seed ones in the agricultural technology sector, similar to what has already happened in fintech.
6.5 An Africa enabler fund and innovation accelerator will be launched to support startups in the agricultural technology sector, with a focus on incubation and scaling, as well as investing in platforms rather than individual investments.
6.6 In India, there are numerous applications developed by the government that are not being utilized effectively, and in order to improve this, investment in a platform-based approach is needed, particularly in states where the government is more supportive and enabling of the agricultural ecosystem.

50:13 🌾 Implementing digital solutions, e-commerce policies, and digitizing advisory services are crucial for the agricultural sector, and the government should consider setting up a digital transformation office to support agricultural technology.

7.1 States need a uniform data policy and digitization of organizations like cooperatives to enable access to data and promote agricultural technology.
7.2 Significant scale can be reached in the agricultural sector by implementing digital solutions, such as enabling cooperatives to deliver services digitally and digitizing the distribution network for input dealers.
7.3 Implementing an e-commerce policy for smallholder agriculture can significantly increase efficiency and reduce costs, but multiple dedicated portals are needed to convert access to market information into transactions and create a more business-driven approach.
7.4 Digitizing advisory services and last mile delivery models, implementing a national policy for digitization, and promoting digital skills and entrepreneurship are crucial for the agricultural sector.
7.5 There is a need for a good incubator and accelerator in India for agricultural technology, similar to what is available in Africa, and the government should consider setting up a digital transformation office in the Ministry of Agriculture to support this.
7.6 States like Maharashtra are already moving in the direction of supporting livelihood programs and creating a pull factor for agricultural technology.

55:44 🌾 Creating a Precision agriculture platform for smallholders globally is crucial, involving farmers in the design process and shifting to demand-driven solutions; agribusiness companies are adapting by starting their own digital channels, while the government needs to downsize and incentivize digitally enabled service delivery instead of blanket subsidies; utilizing precision information and data can provide customized advisory for farmers and change the government’s role in agriculture; philanthropy should invest in big ideas, incubators, and social impact investing to support scalable startups and create sustainable impact at scale.8.1 The speaker discusses the need to create a Precision agriculture platform for smallholders globally, emphasizing the importance of including farmers in the design process and shifting from supply-driven solutions to demand-driven solutions in agricultural technology.
8.2 The challenge of agricultural technology is seen as a threat by big businesses, but it also requires significant effort and capacity from the state to implement, although it ultimately allows for reaching segments of agriculture that have never been reached before.
8.3 Agribusiness companies are finding it difficult to scale through their existing models, so they are starting their own digital channels and joining platforms to reach more producers and customers, although it may initially result in lower margins.
8.4 Agribusiness exports in India have grown significantly by sourcing good quality producers and making them part of the network, while the government needs to downsize and make existing workers more efficient, as well as incentivize digitally enabled service delivery instead of providing blanket subsidies.
8.5 38% of soils in India are phosphorus acidic, but with the use of precision information and data collected through sensors, customized advisory for farmers can be provided, and by creating a platform for technical expertise and data analytics, the government's role in agriculture can change and curriculums can be updated to include courses on data and digital agriculture decision making.
8.6 Philanthropy in agriculture should focus on selecting big ideas, investing in incubators and accelerators, collaborating with existing solutions, and implementing social impact investing to address the lack of conventional capital and support scalable startups in order to create sustainable impact at scale.

Key Insights

Impact of Technology in Agriculture

💰 The allocation of significant funds to digital agriculture missions and technology-driven agriculture promotion in the recent budget highlights the importance of directing the right capital to address the right issues in the agritech sector.

🌍 Precision agriculture technologies, such as digital advisory services and climate advisory, can benefit smallholders in increasing productivity and augmenting their assets.

💡 Energy Tech, particularly alternate energy sources like solar, can significantly reduce the cost of accessing energy, which is crucial for improving integration and productivity in agriculture.

💥 The category of bundling input supply and digital extension services is moving very fast in the agricultural technology sector.

📱 Mobile-based solutions are reducing the digital divide significantly, allowing for faster and more widespread dissemination of information and services, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

🌾 The younger generation of entrepreneurs are playing a crucial role in organizing inputs for farmers and providing market access through dedicated applications, bridging the gap between traditional agriculture and digital technology.

💡 The use of digital technology in agriculture, such as soil sensors and customized fertilizer delivery, has been successfully implemented in Kenya, highlighting the potential for innovation in the sector.

🚜 Innovative approaches like “uberizing” tractors with GPS devices can significantly increase smallholders’ productivity, showcasing the potential of technology in transforming farming practices.

🌱 By combining digital platforms, entrepreneurial culture, and digitally enabled facilitation, agriculture can deliver infinitely scalable solutions to farmers.

🌍 The number of scalable startups in Africa’s agricultural sector is staggering, highlighting the potential for growth and impact in the industry.

Collaboration and Integration in Agricultural Technology

🌍 Many countries have already created digital public infrastructure that can be utilized for innovative business and product models in the financial sector, but it is not being fully utilized yet.

💡 Instead of creating their own platforms, agricultural technology experts should utilize existing platforms to foster collaboration, incubation, and acceleration of product development, ultimately benefiting the industry as a whole.

💰 Integrating extension, finance, and e-commerce platforms can create a unique and efficient system for farmers, allowing them to showcase their produce, receive export orders, and access financial services all in one place.

🌍 The use of technology platforms can help remove pain points for startups and farmers, facilitating essential services and driving digital transformation in countries like Kenya.

🚜 Transition in agriculture requires empowering smallholders and their organizations to be part of the change, rather than imposing supply-driven solutions on them.

Digital Solutions for Smallholders

🌱 The inability to bundle solutions and only offer point solutions is a major challenge for startups in the agricultural sector, as smallholders require comprehensive solutions that encompass extension services, market access, and financial support.

💰 Digital finance solutions are increasingly focusing on providing enterprise finance solutions for producer companies and farmer-based organizations, as individual solutions may not be feasible for reaching small farmers.

🌾 The “Million Farmers platform” facilitates the interaction between data agencies and farmers, providing access to digital registries, weather data, and satellite data, ultimately reducing acquisition costs for farmers by 70%.


Q1: What are the key categories in agricultural technology discussed in the podcast?

A1: The key categories in agricultural technology discussed in the podcast are input supply and digital extension services, market access services, digital finance solutions, and food tech and energy tech. These categories represent different areas where technology is being leveraged to enhance efficiency and transparency in Indian agriculture. Input supply and digital extension services are seeing rapid growth when bundled together. Market access services are experiencing growth as agribusiness companies digitize their value chains. Digital finance solutions, which focus on enterprise finance and work with producer companies, are also experiencing faster growth. Additionally, food tech and energy tech are being explored as areas where technology can bring significant improvements to the agricultural sector.

Q2: What are the benefits of digitizing public data and facilitating access?

Digitization also enables arbitrage and efficient delivery, which can increase productivity and reduce costs in the agriculture industry.A2: Digitizing public data and facilitating access can drive innovation and growth in the agricultural sector. By making public data available in a digital format, it becomes easier for innovators and startups to access and utilize this data for developing new solutions. Investing in platforms and ecosystems is crucial for product and service development in this context, as it helps create a seamless experience for users. Leveraging existing infrastructure and prioritizing innovation and growth through public data access further enables the agricultural sector to make the best use of available resources.

Q3: What factors are important for farmers regarding digitization and trust?

E-commerce platforms are seen as potential providers of functionality and support to farmers.A3: Convergence, digital divide, and trust are important factors for farmers in the context of digitization. Last Mile Catalyst, a platform that aims to bridge the digital divide and gain farmer trust, is essential for ensuring that farmers can fully benefit from digital solutions. Digitizing cooperatives is also highlighted as important for cost-effective customer acquisition. Pluralistic service provision and public-private partnerships play a crucial role in providing comprehensive support to farmers. By addressing these factors, the agricultural sector can ensure that farmers have the necessary access and trust in digital tools and services.

Q4: What is the Million Farmers platform and what is its purpose?

A4: The Million Farmers platform is a platform that facilitates collaboration between farmers, innovators, organizations, government, and institutions. Its purpose is to address the pain points of farmers and develop solutions to improve their agricultural practices. The platform provides access to various types of data, such as farmer registries, weather data, and satellite data, which can be used to inform decision-making and improve farming techniques. It also facilitates the mobilization of farmers and offers incentives for service delivery. By reducing acquisition costs for farmers and incentivizing entrepreneurs to deliver services, the platform aims to promote the adoption of technology and improve the overall productivity and efficiency of Indian agriculture. Additionally, the Million Farmers platform promotes collaboration among startups, banks, and technology companies to deliver end-to-end services, further enhancing the impact of the platform.

Note - This content is generated by AI, we believe it is accurate, but we don’t claim any liability of inaccuracies in the AI generated content.

Listen to the entire conversation.