Saturday Sprouting Reads (Meditations for Agritech Founders, Platformed Rural India by 2030, Turmeric Triumph)
Greetings from Hyderabad! Welcome to the first 2022 edition of fortnightly Saturday Sprouting Reads!
My name is Venky. I write Agribusiness Matters every week to grapple with vexing questions of food, agribusiness, and digital transformation in an era of Climate change. Feel free to dig around the archives if you are new here.
About Sprouting Reads
If you've ever grown food in your kitchen garden like me, sooner than later, you would realize the importance of letting seeds germinate. As much as I would like to include sprouting as an essential process for the raw foods that my body loves to experiment with, I am keen to see how this mindful practice could be adapted for the food that my mind consumes.
You see, comprehension is as much biological as digestion is.
And so, once in a while, I want to look at one or two articles closely and chew over them. I may or may not have a long-form narrative take on it, but I want to meditate slowly on them so that those among you who are deeply thinking about agriculture could ruminate on them as slowly as wise cows do. Who knows? Perhaps, you may end up seeing them differently.
Saturday Sprouting Reads goes out to 28.5 K+ curious agribusiness readers across the globe.I am accepting requests for unconventional content sponsorship experiments from contrarian agritech startups chasing the holy grail of sustainable impact. Do write to me if you want to collaborate.
[Subscriber-Only] Seven Meditations for Agritech Founders to review 2021 and plan for 2022
Over the last two years, having closely observed a few “outlier” agritech founders in my line of work, I want to share a few meditations that could help agritech founders discover their highest potential.
Treat each of these meditations as pointers for you to do self-reflection on how you fared in 2021 and how you want to do differently in 2022.
Here is a quick summary of seven meditations, offered here without a detailed commentary.
Remember to pause between each meditation. Write your own self-reflection. You are welcome to share them with me. Or you can keep them private. Up to you.
Earn Your Skin In the Game
What did you do in 2021 and what are you planning to do in 2022 to earn your skin in the game?
Agricultural Markets Come First, Technology Comes Second.
What have you learned in 2021 from how the traditional agricultural markets have worked? How have you incorporated those learnings into what you currently do with technology? How do you plan to incorporate those learnings in 2022?
Inherit Your “Gharanas” (Ancestry) Carefully
Which company’s mental model have you tried to emulate? What you have inherited from them? Most importantly, what have you not inherited from them?
Choose the game you want to play
What is the game you want to play that will be sustainable for you and your business? Remember. You choose the actors, betters (investors), the rules of the game, and how the game will be scored by you and your betters.
What is the game you played in 2021 and how do you plan to up the game in 2022? What game do you want to play for your sanity’s sake?
Embrace the Difficulty of Being a Capitalist in Agriculture
There is a central, western (colonizing) idea of capitalism and there is also a native, cultural, traditional idea of capitalism. Which one do you relate with? Why? What “freedoms” did you offer and plan to offer to “empower” farmers? How have you embraced the difficulty of being a capitalist in agriculture?
Learn to Tell Your Story
Who is telling your story? Are you leveraging social media and newsletters to tell your own story of progress, your own story of mistakes, learnings, or are you relying on PR agencies/ venture capitalists/ investment banks to do the job?
How did you tell your story in 2021 and how do you plan to tell your story in 2022?
Learn the Wise Difference Between Markets and Marketplaces
Marketplaces learn, Markets remembers. Marketplaces proposes, Markets disposes. Marketplaces are discontinuous, Markets are continuous. Markets control marketplaces by constraint and constancy. Marketplaces get all our attention, markets has all the power.
What marketplace are you building and in what ways it is transforming markets?
Sanjay Bhargava, ex-paypal and ex-Starlink, after announcing his retirement, writes an interesting whitepaper with a clear roadmap to end poverty by 2030
His formula is straightforward: High-Speed Broadband + Cheap Credit + Jobs For All
His core logic is premised thus:
“The TRAI Aug’21 report on broadband states that the total number of rural fixed-line broadband connections declined from 879079 to 764691 with the decline coming from BSNL. Only two private sector operators added connections. They were Reliance Jio with 10481 and GTPL Hathaway with 70474. Of the top 10 broadband providers in India six private sector players, including Bharti Airtel had ZERO fixed-line broadband connections in rural areas. A rough estimate is that we need 7 million points in Rural India which have high speed low latency broadband using 5G/satellite/Fibre connectivity by Dec 2023. At that level we will have 1.18 connection for every 100 people in Rural India.”
The critical assumption is thus:
“I have made an assumption that the investment required for 7 million points will be around $5000 per point or $35 Billion and the average cost that the user will pay will be around $1000 per annum. As long as these assumptions are not way off the mark the preciseness of the assumptions does not matter. At $1000 per annum the rural market in India would be $7 Billion revenue per annum. “
This is great. But who will foot the bill?
“Can we assume that 70% of the points will be paid by the private sector of which 50% will be GDP accretive? These users will mostly be MSME ( Micro, Small, Medium, Entrepreneurs) who use broadband to grow their business. If this is correct and on an average, each point produces $4000 of incremental GDP then the 3.5 million points will produce $14 billion of incremental GDP. The other 20% of the points could be used to power ATM’s, provide connectivity and business continuity to large companies which may not have much impact on GDP. The 30% that the government has to pay for is $2.1 billion to ensure that all government institutions including schools, healthcare, police, courts etc. have the connectivity they need.
The USOF (Universal Services Obligation Fund) fund can pay a good chunk of this and the balance can come from state budgets. With creative fundraising, there may be companies who want to adopt districts and use them as an R&D lab for their solutions. CSR, foundations, wealthy individuals (including diaspora) can all chip in.”
Can India End Poverty by 2030 by providing cheap credit as a flywheel for creating a one trillion dollar economy?
“Whoever solves cheap credit in a globally scalable way will do a lot of good and probably build a $1T company in 10-20 years. Good Broadband is an important disruptor to make cheap credit possible just as internet was a key disruptor that helped PayPal disrupts payments and become a global $200 billion plus company.” - Sanjay
I am not going to wear my critic’s hat, especially at the start of the new year.
Let’s face it. Unlike China, India has shied away from being ambitious, setting moonshot goals. Is any ambitious agritech entrepreneur listening?
P.S. Sanjay is keen to collaborate with entrepreneurs to manifest this dream. More details here
What are the necessary ingredients to become a profitable farmer in rural Tamizhnadu, practicing regenerative agriculture over 12 acres, growing coconut, turmeric, and banana?
How can an Indian farmer directly sell his produce to his customers using social media (30K followers) without relying on the traders’ ecosystem?
Aparna Karthikeyan writes a brilliant story on a farmer whom I had the pleasure of acquaintance during my travels to Erode belts in Tamizhnadu during March’21.
So, what do you think?
How happy are you with today’s edition? I would love to get your candid feedback. Your feedback will be anonymous. Two questions. 1 Minute. Thanks.🙏
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