Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), NITI Aayog, and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) rolled out their first AgriTech Challenge cohort for its ambitious innovative Agri-tech program that aims to help smallholder farmers across Asia and Africa to address their challenges in the aftermath of the pandemic. The event was held on 21st December 2021.
AIM, NITI Aayog in partnership with UNCDF, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Rabo Foundation launched a South-South innovation platform to enable the cross-border exchange of innovations, insights, and investments in July this year 2021. Through this platform, cross-border collaborations among emerging markets across India, Indonesia, Malawi, Malaysia, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia would be enabled.
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For its first platform AgriTech Challenge Cohort and Agri-Fintech innovators, applications were invited to facilitate their expansion to the international markets through two tracks- Main track and AIM track. A total of 10 high-growth innovators have been selected in the Main track, out of a total of 100 applications. The key objective of the main track applications was ‘Expansion – Support solution pilot in the chosen international market.’
Speaking during the virtual announcement of the cohort, VC, NITI Aayog Dr. Rajiv Kumar, said “In India, more than 50% of the population is dependent on agriculture and it contributes to about 15-18% of the GDP. As agriculture is a sector that emotionally appeals to the masses, Indian agencies are prompted to undertake policy measures to stimulate the industry landscape. We at NITI Aayog are leaving no stone unturned to improve the agriculture sectoral landscape and we will continue till the milestones are achieved and beyond.”
The Cohort represents a diverse range of solutions across the value chain of the smallholder farmer, including soil analysis, farm management & intelligence, dairy ecosystem, carbon credits, solar-based cold storage, digital marketplace, fintech, livestock insurance, among others.
Director, Inclusive Finance Practice Area, UNCDF Henri Dommel while sharing his views said “UNCDF has been working towards leaving no one behind in the digital era, particularly in the least developed countries. Our engagement in Asia and Africa is anchored on collaborative initiatives to improve the lives of the vulnerable and help achieve SDGs. The synergies and learning opportunities between the two regions are immense, underscored by a thriving innovation ecosystem that is working to address many shared challenges. The South-South Platform is a co-created effort in this direction to enable the exchange of knowledge and solutions, with Agritech Challenge as the inaugural initiative. We are delighted to welcome the cohort and work with them in facilitating their solution adoption to benefit the smallholder farmers in Asia and Africa.”
Over the coming weeks, the selected participants will receive support to enable their international expansion through direct industry linkages, target market and sector understanding, investor connections, insights to scale up across borders, and the opportunity to receive a financial grant.
In his address, Mission Director, Atal Innovation Mission, NITI Aayog, Dr. Chintan Vaishnav said, India’s innovation ecosystem has matured rapidly over the last decade and the creativity and vigor of Indian entrepreneurs and researchers can play a critical role in solving some of the toughest societal challenges. The Agritech Challenge focuses on improving the financial health of smallholder farmers and will work towards helping the participants build and test their solution in the new market, as part of UNCDF’s work under the Global Centre for Financial Health, with subsequent support on scaling the solution as well.”
The Challenge is also engaging with AIM-incubated early-stage innovators under a dedicated AIM-track, to help build readiness for international expansion. An additional 15 promising AIM-incubated innovators have been selected across irrigation technology, fintech, online marketplace, smart farming, cold storage, among others. They will receive support to explore expansion through masterclasses by global experts and opportunities to engage with industry mentors.
Asserting upon their engagement in Asia and Africa to help achieve the SDGs, Anjani Bansal, Private Sector Partnerships Lead, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said, “Our engagement in Asia and Africa is anchored on collaborative initiatives to help achieve the SDGs. The synergies and learning opportunities between the two regions are immense, underscored by a thriving innovation ecosystem that is working to address many shared challenges. The Agritech Challenge is an inaugural initiative of the South-South Platform created to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and solutions between the two regions. We are delighted to welcome the cohort of this challenge and work with them to improve and grow the adoption of their solutions by smallholder farmers in Asia and Africa.”
Consolata Acayo, Assistant Commissioner, Agricultural Information and Communications, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Government of Uganda said the Ministry is keen on the value of this South-South cooperation especially enabling innovations from India and what they can add to the Ugandan agritech ecosystem as they strive to address persistent challenges in the agriculture sector.
“We recognize the strategic potential of digital transformation in driving Uganda’s agro-industrialization program. Digital technologies are effective in bridging the information gaps that hinder market access for many smallholder farmers, increasing knowledge through extension services, and improving supply chain management. Digital transformation in agriculture requires many sectors of our economy to work together; and indeed the joint effort by the government, private sector, and development partners,” she said.
Executive Director, Rural & Development Banking/Advisory, Rabobank Arindom Datta spoke about the challenges and termed agriculture as a subject of unpredictable factors.
“While agriculture is a lifeline in many developing countries, it is also a high-risk sector. It is subject to unpredictable factors from prices, policies, diseases, erratic weather, and climate change. Rabo Foundation is happy to support The Agritech Challenge, which is aligned with our focus on innovations in addition to traditional approaches to help develop a more self-reliant and shock responsive agriculture ecosystem that can address the issue of food security and also benefits the smallholder farmers.”
Moreover, there were over 130 innovators who applied to join the Challenge with solutions addressing key productivity, climate risk, and supply chain gaps for smallholder farmers. A select set of solutions were presented to a global jury comprising industry, banking, and ecosystem leaders from Asia and Africa, to form the cohort of the Agritech Challenge.