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Every year, nearly one-third of the food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted. The huge losses, especially at a time when meeting global food demand is a challenge amidst resource scarcity and climate change, are unaffordable. This is why global leaders and agriculture stakeholders are leveraging digital farming with emerging technologies. But it is a known fact that the agriculture industry is a complex and vast ecosystem and it will take a lot more than independent and fragmented digital solutions to achieve food security and sustainability goals on a global scale.
In our earlier article titled Transforming the Agriculture Value Chain with Digital Technologies, we mentioned that independently digital technologies can improve efficiency and profitability but to create value, a collective approach is needed. In this article, we’ll talk about how different stakeholders can collectively work to create value that can result in a truly sustainable agriculture ecosystem.
One of the key stakeholders in the agriculture sector across different countries, governments are responsible for framing policies that define the state of agriculture. Through better policies and reforms, governments can encourage as well as push practices and technologies that can transform the future of agriculture. To create more effective policies and reforms, Governments need to work closely with agribusinesses, startups, research institutions, and the farming community to identify underfunded segments with growth potential and implement policies that propel their growth. Another area which governments should be looking at is R&D. This will encourage research that can lead to more breakthroughs in agriculture.
Agribusinesses, primarily the established ones, play an important role in the value that can be derived from the overall value chain. They include companies related to cultivating and processing agricultural produce. They may or may not be involved directly in food production. Deere & Company, for example, doesn’t grow food but most farmers in the US own a tractor or other equipment owned by them. These agribusinesses need to work on two important things. First, improve focus on data security. With rising concerns around data security, they need to keep the process of data collection. Second, to gain farmer trust, particularly in the case of data that comes directly from farmers, they need to maintain transparency, and clearly communicate why it is collected and how it will be used. This will give them access to critical information that can be used to improve the processes and eventually contribute to sector improvements.
Startups have been at the forefront of leveraging technology and innovation in business models to overcome critical challenges and improve the agriculture sector globally. As startups continue to unleash the power of innovation and technology, they face challenges of their own. This is where encouragement of venture capitalists, policies by governments can help them overcome the initial impedance so that they continue to innovate across the value chain by continuously identifying challenges and opportunities and finding relevant digital solutions for them. At the same time, startups would need to be sensitive to disruptions in the traditional model and its impact on growers and on the environment.
In a lot of countries, digital adoption may face resistance from grower’s side for reasons such as lack of digital literacy, cost of adopting digital technologies, or lack of clarity on how digital solutions can bring better results i.e. projected results or ROI. This is where close collaboration is needed between growers, governments, cooperatives, and agribusinesses to improve their digital literacy and address other challenges that cause resistance to adoption. They should be provided with opportunities to partner with food and ag companies directly which in turn will encourage both growers and their partners to create collective value and improve product quality. We see that especially when it comes to demand-supply planning or meeting consumer expectations of food transparency, stakeholders can’t meet certain goals without the contribution of growers- digitally and otherwise.
Digitization in the agriculture industry is slightly more complex than in other industries. It goes beyond just adding new technology. It often translates into a cultural shift and typically brings about fundamental changes to how a business operates. However, given the scale and the complexity of the changes involved, the task of envisioning a clear roadmap that aligns with overall business objectives is often riddled with complexity and uncertainty. This is where the need for a strategic innovation partner comes in. Agribusinesses that partner with specialized digital technology and innovation service providers at a fundamental, strategic level typically see benefits in terms of rapid technology adoption as well as a highly flexible approach to innovation that adapts to changing market conditions by refining the strategy and orchestrating a mix of digital technologies to deliver optimum innovation.
The research area will be greatly impacted by digital adoption and vice-versa. While research institutions continue to do phenomenal work, they need to have a closer connection with the industry and the various stakeholders across the value chain in order to deliver greater impact. Modern technologies combined with the exponential increase in computing capacities, availability of large datasets, and strong modeling platforms are leading to the creation of new niche areas in research. At the same time, the research is helping improve the quality of crops, create more resilient seeds, devise efficient farming practices, help farmers get more value out of their crops, analyze complexities, and project scenarios.
In our report titled “The State of Digital Agriculture 2021”, we highlighted how the lack of a collaborative approach is preventing stakeholders from adopting digital technologies and agritech effectively. Undoubtedly, agritech is gaining pace globally as many stakeholders are venturing into the domain in some form or the other. The efforts are however scattered and independent. The lack of a collaborative approach between key stakeholders often leads to dilution of effective impact if we see from the view of overall benefit to the agriculture sector. Independent initiatives, especially within the value chain, often need an integrated approach that covers the needs of related stakeholders and fits within the ecosystem without significant disruption.
Every stakeholder, therefore, must be open to collaborating with the right partners in relevant domains and experiment with taking help from a variety of sources. They should adopt a more experimental, open approach and cast wide to adopt key technologies effectively. In that sense, the old templates for who to collaborate with no longer apply, and organizations need to have a more open outlook towards bringing in expert help.