Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Agriculture: Twenty Years from Now...

Following is a summary of my remarks in an “Agri Panel” at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit earlier today, in response to the question, “What do you think will be game-changing about how we think about agriculture, twenty years from now?”

Soon after the panel moderator sent me this very interesting question a couple of days ago, the first thing I did was to post this question on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to crowdsource thoughts from my friends. There were nearly two hundred unique responses! They added up to twenty pages of text, without counting the number of pages in the links I received. Overwhelming, isn’t it?

All I am doing now is to simply synthesize those inputs and share with you J

The future of any system is shaped the current aspirations of the key stakeholders. Let’s take a look at the aspirations of the consumers, producers and the society at large…

Consumers want sufficient quantity of food (because we would be nearly nine billion by then, and on average richer than today), that is tasty (although, a friend did say in lighter vein, “since we will have nano-bots in our blood streams, and since our memories could be uploaded on to cloud, maybe we don’t need food and therefore no agriculture; we probably just need some electricity, or batteries, or just a few hours of exposure to sun ;-), is safe (you are all consumers here, don’t you agree that harmful chemicals in food is your topmost concern?), nutritious (scientists say that most of the world is suffering from invisible hunger), and all of these at reasonable prices!     

Farmers want higher incomes (as you know, per capita income of farmers around the world, especially in emerging economies, is far lower than the general per capita) with lower risk (weather and disease related production risks, price volatility). Their labour deserves more dignity (as it is, hardly any youth from the next generation wants to be a farmer) and they deserve better quality life (as in, the conveniences and comforts that are common in urban settings).  

Society at large would like agriculture to conserve natural resources (water and top soil, for example) and where possible, actually renew them. Agriculture needs to be resilient to climate change (the summer rains and warm winters, extreme climate episodes like heavy downpours on one hand and droughts on the other, etc), and again, where possible, positively impact climate change (sequester carbon, minimize greenhouse gas emissions etc).

An interplay of these different - at times conflicting - aspirations gives rise to three distinct scenarios, all of which will co-exist in twenty years. Let me label them: Farms as Factories, Homes as Farms, and Back to Basics!

Farms as Factories: By using the metaphor of factories, all I am saying is that the consistent quality of output will be produced, crop after crop, by leveraging the evolving technologies – both farming (like seed, nutrients, farm-equipment, agronomy practices etc) and digital (IoT, block chain, hyper-spectral imaging, GPS / GIS etc). A friend called them, “hardware, software, and liveware”). Another friend went to the extent of visualising a self-managing seed! These seeds will analyse the experienced conditions like soil, weather, water etc and invoke the necessary embedded features that would maximize the yield and quality. This may sound like fantasy today, but those of you who are familiar with experiments on seeds with multiple layers of coating in the past may very well say this could be a reality in twenty years!

Homes as Farms: I am sure, you have heard of vertical farming, balcony farming, kitchen gardens and such other names. Once supply chains are established to supply DIY-type mini production units, seeds, nutrients etc to the households, this phenomenon will expand more rapidly. This food is safe without any doubt in the consumer mind, and zero carbon miles! Business Models are also in the works for another kind of service. If you are not adventurous enough to grow crops in your backyard yourself, you can simply let out the space to Service Providers who can grow crops on a BOO model. Besides experts growing the crops in this model, a colony-level kitchen garden is more optimal than a household level garden. And a third model, which is not a ‘home-as-farm’ strictly speaking, is a partnership between a group of, say, five thousand, consumers and a community of, say, five hundred farmers. I know of several such partnerships across cities, built as WhatsApp Groups integrating even the e-commerce functionality.       

Back to Basics: Much of today’s ills of agriculture are due to chemical-intensive mono-cropping paradigm. A more sustainable future scenario would be an integrated farming system consisting of polyculture, permaculture, organic compost, bee-keeping, animal husbandry, renewable energy. In fact, I already see some farms where solar energy brings larger revenue than the conventional crops.  
As the panel went forward, there were other questions, but for now I am wrapping up this post without covering them.

As always, comments are most welcome J This is a live and lively topic! 

37 comments:

  1. wonderful and thought provoking! liked the idea of crowd sourcing of ideas! as a methodology! and also acknowledging it openly!

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  2. Sir, great, a food factory, agriculture as an Industry will make the difference...all the best in your endeavour in making agriculture as a factory process than the natural way that is today, as rightly said we need to force output in a natural way than that is existing today...

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  3. Things are changing in agriculture and food all around the world. But i think consumer is the most important influencer of the direction for future of it. On one hand, people are getting richer, educated, health conscious, & most important they want to consume better things in better way & poor people aspire for the same but in the lesser price! On the other hand, Farming traditional crop is seeming very expensive due to higher costs, water availability is changing, it is becoming tough to grow anything, Farmers don't want to stay farmers. many companies, govt, social organisations etc are trying to find ways to disrupt it but agriculture is a big big deal, it is not a luxury but a commodity. But things are going to get worse and big disruption will surely happen but it will not be liked by current stakeholders as they are going out of the business like diesel guys when thinking of electric!

    I like your thoughts, a few people in the world are understanding what you are saying! :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Shailendra 😊

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    2. You're welcome. I run an Organic Company named Carmel Organics. Happy to connect more if anything looks synergic to you! My email: shailendra@carmelorganics.in Thank you! :)

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  4. Is it practicable and viable in Indian farm size and farming ethics/political conditions? Its positive indicator are increasing awareness about safe/nutritious food and lust of more income generation!

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    Replies
    1. There's a saying about India, "anything is true, and equally opposite is also true!" Everything will happen in bits & pieces, not necessarily everywhere in India 😊

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  5. Great read. Let me know when those "smart" seeds that can adapt to their environments are available! (Hannah)

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  6. Wonderful sir. The concept of Home farms & boo model all seems a real future. Going forward land is a constraint and optimising land utilisation will be key. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. On Food pricing I have been consistent that consumes are unreasonable when it it comes to food prices. Political & media narrative makes us believe we must get food at constant 1970 prices. During this period price of cinema ticket has gone up 100+ times we happily pay.
    Our income has multiplied but that is reserved for worldly goods not food.
    Farmers as you have languished, we wake up only when they COMMIT Suicide, hat to bash the govt of the day, not to agree to pay more.

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  8. Homes as Farms / Community farming sounds very interesting.
    In Solar roof top this is slowly gaining acceptance.
    Surely this will be a new model of farming at the consumption point,

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  9. Sir very thought provoking and strategic synthesis of 200+ views & ideas of agri practitioners. Your 3 box theory makes it an interesting read

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  10. Farms in homes is seeded from kitchen garden concept. Once we take care of producing clean agriculture - a tall order indeed but already commenced in several patches in India - we need to think of several rural homes that are already producing packed foods. But these production spokes are sans quality due to lack of proper infrastructure and supervision. Let each such home build a cement platform where the rural persons can produce; supply them gloves on a continuing basis to handle the products with due care; have a supervisor go round the homes guiding and mentoring production processes culturing the existing production process into a quality regime; centralize testing, packing and forwarding at the hub close to a cluster of 4 to 5 such villages; ITC Agro likes can do labeling and branding and sale. The whole system requires not huge investments but the will to add value at the farm gate and rural homes.

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    Replies
    1. Comprehensive and relevant
      Crowd sourcing of ideas wonderful
      Congratulations...

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    2. Yes Yerram Raju garu, will be a reality sooner than later πŸ‘

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  11. Thanks Sir for writing this to those who could not listen you at GEC. Ideas & experiences shared by you here are thought provoking. A lot of them are even happening today. Adaptation of sustainable agriculture practices looks the only future. Consumers are looking for chemical free foods. Immense interest of young generation in agriculture start ups is bringing technology in the sector. IOT & precision farming seems to be future.
    Listening this from an industry leader is a delight. Thanks again.

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  12. Great Read! In a summarize way, Opportunity lies in "Enabling Consumers to get consumable food in which {Cost & Time are affordable}, Fulfills the nutrition requirements in least linkages & Finally make the consumer feel Happy and Safe.
    Which in turn create sustainable revenue for all industry stake holders.
    Just for an Example:- Think about communication connectivity between people 20 years back and now. How it created "Ease to connect", "Affordable for all economic level people" & "Jobs & Wealth creation for Industry"

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Amit 😊 Good summary πŸ‘Œ

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  13. Awesome summary about the future of farming which sounds inevitable of the change process. I feel the Food Factory concept will bring more of financial inclusion and access to cutting edge technologies and more importantly the farmers will also become partners in the progress.

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