Saturday Sprouting Reads (Mental Models for Agritech, Platform Cooperatives, Agricultural Economics)
Nine Mental models for Agritech | Six Typologies of platform cooperatives in agriculture | How do we we understand economics outside and inside Agriculture?
Welcome to Saturday Sprouting Reads!
Agribusiness Matters is read by those who seek interdisciplinary perspectives on a multi-variable, multi-agent domain called Agriculture in an age of runaway Climate Change. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
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 currently accepting requests for interesting content sponsorship experiments from contrarian agritech startups chasing the holy grail of sustainable impact. Do write to me if you want to collaborate.
If you want to make “philosophy” cool for the millennial generation, I’d suggest you rename it “Mental models”. Ever since I started writing Agribusiness Matters in 2017, I’ve been fascinated by the rainbowesque nature of how humans understand a domain like agriculture.
In Evolution’s Rainbow, Joan Roughgarden writes,
“How, I wondered, does biology account for such a huge population that doesn’t match the template science teaches as normal? When scientific theory says something’s wrong with so many people, perhaps the theory is wrong, not the people.”
Could it be the same thing with how humans have (mis)understood agriculture as a domain for millennia?
Today, when the climate crisis threatens to break down our food systems, when there is incontrovertible evidence that diversity is essential for the resilience of food systems, can we, for starters, start with understanding agriculture from diverse lenses?
There is another central reason why I am interested in writing about agriculture from an interdisciplinary standpoint: We are moving from an age of enlightenment to an age of entanglement.
“As we are becoming more entangled with our technologies, we are also becoming more entangled with each other. The power (physical, political, and social) has shifted from comprehensible hierarchies to less-intelligible networks. We can no longer understand how the world works by breaking it down into loosely-connected parts that reflect the hierarchy of physical space or deliberate design. Instead, we must watch the flows of information, ideas, energy, and matter that connect us, and the networks of communication, trust, and distribution that enable these flows.”
Core Mental Models
a. Agriculture as a Complex Living System
b. Agribusiness as Wicked Domain
c. Playground Relationship Between Agricultural Markets and Digitization of Agriculture
d. Role of Policy Makers in Digital Agriculture
Mental Models of Situational Awareness
a. The era of Studio Agriculture
Supply Chain Centric Mental Models
a. Bull-Whip Effects on Agri-Input and Agri-Output Supply Chains
b. Maslowian Hierarchy of Needs for Agri-Input and Agri-Output Supply Chains
Investor Specific Mental Models
a. Gatekeepers at the Edge Acid Test
b. Agritech Vapourware Acid Test
Based on the seven doctrines of cooperatives laid by the International Co-operative Alliance, 1995), — (1) voluntary and open membership, (2) democratic member control, (3) member economic participation, (4) autonomy and independence, (5) education, training, and information, (6) cooperation among cooperatives, and (7) concern for the community — I discovered this interesting article by Kushankur Dey and Avinash Kumar, thanks to a hat tip from KC Mishra, which lays down six interesting typologies of platform cooperatives in agriculture.
I am sure there will be more examples. Do chime in with your examples, if you know other players who exemplify these typologies.
1. Asset Sharing
Can we build Fairbnb.Coop for farmers to gain alternative sources of income by enabling authentic farm experiences for nature-starved urban consumers? (Land Trust has been doing that. However, I am not sure if it is community-owned).
2. Local and Remote Gig Work
Cataki’s pitch is something I could have never imagined: Tinder for Street Recyclers. In Sao Paulo, Cataki matches waste collectors (or ‘catadores’ as they’re known in Brazil) with people who have recyclable waste that they want to get rid of.
Who is building a matchmaking algorithm for matching those who need labour work with those who can offer them, when they are not in the middle of a planting season?
I am sure there must be players who are doing this in Europe. I haven’t seen such players in India yet.
3. Online Market
Open Food Network writes introduces itself thus:
Our open-source platform enables new, ethical supply chains. Food producers can sell online, wholesalers can manage buying groups and supply produce through networks of food hubs and shops. Communities can bring together producers to create a virtual farmers’ market, building a resilient local food economy.
There are of course various online marketplaces of various stripes in smallholding contexts. In the past, I have talked about a) Integrators b) Aggregators. c) Scalers, d) Farm-to-fork marketplaces. e) Three Waves of Agritech Platforms in Agri-Inputs f) Horizontal and Vertical Marketplaces.
I am yet to do one consolidated take that helps founders make sense of marketplaces of various stripes. Will do so soon.
4. A suite of Financial Services - savings or remittances, credit, and payment.
Samunnati is a classic example of a player attempting to digitize the FPC value chain.
In the past, I have compared Samunnati with PayAgri
If you contrast their agri-fintech + data-driven marketplace model with yet another FPC Aggregator player, Samunnati, you discover the long tail of marketplace models that have been thriving based on the premise of facilitating trade and funding flows based on transaction data in the marketplaces.
5. Farm Information Management Systems
Farm Information Management Systems are today being built with a B2B focus, rather than a B2F focus, let alone a B 2 Cooperative focus. Recently, I discovered eKutir from Odisha which has been building farm information management systems where cooperative farmers can open up their platform APIs to other agronomy players.
In 2020, I put together an unmagic quadrant on digital agronomy that needs to be further updated in 2022 market realities.
6. Software Development
Who is building a Software development SDK kit offering cloud storage and scalable services for growers and agronomy professionals to build their unique set of applications?
Leaf is building one component of this, building standardized nuts and bolts (Machine Data, Field Boundaries, Imagery, Weather, Soil) for agritech developers to build interesting applications while consuming those nuts and bolts.
There are other components that are still needed for growers/agribusinesses to launch their own agribusiness applications. Who is building them?
All of these six typologies for platform cooperatives are complex activities, involving a great deal of ecosystem alignment. It will be worthwhile to see how governments can create a nurturing ecosystem of platform cooperatives.
David Zilberman, professor, of agriculture and resource economics, explores a central question that has fascinated me for a long time.
The conventional understanding could be summed up thus:
“Professor Andy Schmitz argued that ag econ is econ, with some emphasis on agriculture. He advocated publishing in Econ journals on broad issues and opportunistically writing papers on ag problems.”
However, as David further writes, nothing could be farther from the truth:
“I started going to Ag Econ meetings and discovered a new parallel universe to the mainstream economic world. There was more real-world emphasis on technology adoption, supply chain, future markets, and political economy. While the analyses may not be as elegant as one may see in mainstream econ, there was a lot of conceptual innovation and relevance. I realized that this is my discipline.”
So what is the difference?
These are closely allied disciplines with a symbiotic relationship – but ag econ is not a pure subset of Economics. Economics aims to understand behavior and explain prices, resource allocation, production patterns, the macroeconomy, and international trade. Over time, its coverage grew to explain almost all human choices, including marriage and interaction within the family, and political outcomes…..The relationship between ARE and ECON is like that of physics and engineering or economics and business administration.
The relationship between physics and engineering reveals something vital: We need an applied science mindset to tackle entangling problems in the domains of food and agribusiness.
Tracing the roots of the multi-disciplinary nature of agricultural economics, David writes something which is music to my ears:
“Agricultural and resource economists have emphasized multidisciplinary work and collaboration with scientists aiming to solve emerging problems. Their research portfolio includes applied theories integrating socio-political with natural resources systems and studies to assess past policies, project their impacts, and design new approaches for diverse decision-makers, from farmers to local government and the international community.”
Why do we multi-disciplinary focus on agriculture?
“…The challenges of climate change, loss of biodiversity and water, and food security urgently require research that combines the rigorous understanding of economics and policies with knowledge of the subject matter in ARE departments…ARE and ECON should co-evolve, pursuing their distinct missions, thus contributing to making the world a better place. "
Can these diverse domains coevolve in keeping up with the pace of each other to address the literal and metaphorical burning issues we face today? Our f
uture present is at stake!
So, what do you think?
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