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Agri startups get a leg-up with accelerator fund

“The existing startups are run by youth with good educational and economical background. The government should provide training and backup for the rural youth to set up startups,” she said.

Agri startups get a leg-up with accelerator fund
Representative image

CHENNAI: Even as they welcomed the move by the Union government to set up an agriculture accelerator fund to encourage agri startups, experts said there still were several challenges that should be overcome for the startups to be successful and create a positive impact for the thousands of farmers.

Welcoming the thrust given to the agriculture sector by allocating more funds, R Rengalakshmi, director, Ecotechnology, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) said there would be several challenges to establishing agriculture startups.

“The existing startups are run by youth with good educational and economical background. The government should provide training and backup for the rural youth to set up startups,” she said. Also, the youth should be provided marketing assistance to ensure that the new ventures are successful.

Another area that the authorities should focus on is to encourage more women to set up such startups, Rengalakshmi added.

Second her view on more rural youth being involved in farming, KS Narayanan of Tamil Nadu Delta Farmers’ Forum said proper training should be given to these youngsters for setting up agri startups “Setting up an accelerated agricultural fund is a welcome move, as the youth planning to establish startups won’t have to approach the bank or other financial institutions for funds,” he added.

However, he added, not including farm loan waiver and failure to streamline crop insurance scheme were disappointing for the existing farmers.

The Rs 2,200 crore expedited fund would be useful in stimulating agricultural startups in rural areas through collaboration between farmers, State, and the sector, opined B Soundararajan, chairman, Suguna Foods. Besides agriculture, this could also accelerate growth in other sectors such as animal husbandry, dairy, and fisheries, he said.

“Overall, investment in resources and modern technology in these domains will contribute to the formation of long-term growth that will give greater results in the coming years,” Soundararajan said.

Karthik Jayaraman, co-founder and managing director of city-based agri tech firm WayCool said it was a commendable move by the government to provide digital public infrastructure for agriculture enabling an open source, open standard, and interoperable public good encompassing farmer-centric solutions.

“This will definitely help improve access to farm inputs for the farmers while also boosting market intelligence, thereby also providing support to agri-tech and startup growth. Despite being the major contributor to the GDP, the sector is still faced with a plethora of challenges, and the launch of the agriculture accelerator fund will provide ample relief, in terms of encouraging young entrepreneurs while also bringing in innovative and affordable solutions to address the challenges faced by the farmers, especially in terms of enhancing profitability and equipping modern technology,” he added.

Another initiative that he sought to highlight was the Atma Nirbhar Clean Plant Programme that would offer farmers access to the availability of disease-free, clean planting material, benefitting crop yield in large numbers.

This is crucial, as disease infestation has been a dire problem affecting 35% of total crop productivity.

Humble millets find their spot under the sun, finally

From being classified only as coarse grains, all have started paying attention to millets after the Union government launched the Millet Mission, which involves an outlay of Rs 800 crore, said ED Israel Oliver King, director, Biodiversity, MSSRF.

There are eight varieties of millets in the country, all of which should be promoted under the mission, he said. “The Union government should not concentrate only on high varieties of millets, it should look into productivity and profitability as well,” he opined.

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According to a report prepared by the foundation, millets are best described as ‘Climate Smart Nutri-cereals’ but have not received much attention till now. Science and technology have not identified the potential and nutritional values of millets. “Balanced approach should be adopted to increase the cultivation of millets,” added Dr King.

The report by MSSRF said the authorities should take into consideration the following four areas in an integrated manner if the mission is to be successful: production of millet germplasm through community participation thereby stopping genetic erosion; processing millets using organic farming methods; including them in programmes like noon-meal programme; and enlarging the opportunities for procurement both nationally and internationally.

Much has changed in the last decade, pointed out Ravi Kesavan, director, Centre for Plant Breeding and Genetics, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU). “Ten years ago, we didn’t even have the machinery to harvest. But it is not so now, as post-harvest technologies were developed for polishing, flour making, blending and other value-added products,” he said.

Another key aspect is the significant reduction in the duration of crops. For instance, the crop duration of kodo millet (locally called varagu) was around 250 days earlier. Now, it has shortened to 125 days now without affecting its nutritional value.

While most states have only some millets, all six varieties of small millets – ragi or finger millet, saamai or little millet, thinai or foxtail millet, varagu or kodo millet, kuthiraivali or barnyard millet, and panivaragu or proso millet – are grown in Tamil Nadu, he said.

Dr Kesavan added that awareness was being created among the public, especially students, to increase the consumption of millet.

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R Sathyanarayana
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