Sunday Reflections (09/05/21)

In doing what I am doing, what am I really doing?

Hello Friends,

Greetings from Hyderabad!

I write Sunday Reflections in pursuit of one question - In doing what I am doing, what am I really doing?

Orientation: My name is Venky, I write Agribusiness matters to explore wicked questions pertaining to agriculture and our future that go beyond moralizing answers of the technological kind. Feel free to dig around the archives, if you want to get a flavor of my previous agribusiness writings.

On Friday, I published the seventh edition of Sprouting Reads for subscribers of this newsletter, featuring a longish commentary on an article written by Greg Meyers, Group Chief Information and Digital Officer (CIO and CDO) at Syngenta Group.

Here is a long and short story version:

Concerned by the gold rush of agritech arms race, Greg Meyers wonders why are we seeing “30 software subscriptions with 30 passwords all offering a $4 bushel-per-acre advantage but requiring data reentry from one supposedly “one stop shop” to the next.”? 

His suggestion to Agritech entrepreneurs is straight and concise:

“Compete on the algorithm, the product and the service—not walling the garden.”

Looking at the historical evolution of the role of financial capital in technological revolutions, along with my observations in the Indian agritech scene, in addition to my understanding of the complexity domain, I came to a dour conclusion: Collaboration would be impossible in this “Installation” phase of agritech technological revolution that we are now in.

"Installation Phase" comes from Carlota Perez's book"Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital". Using this framework, I also map the indian agritech scene, along with recent developments such as the farmer protests. 

Although I conflate the global agritech S-Curve with Indian Agtech S-Curve in my article to highlight various facets of the phases of agritech technological revolution unfolding in our mist, it's obvious that there are vast differences in the way Indian Agtech scene is evolving vis-a-vis the rest. 

It is also important here to acknowledge the tension between Big Ag (with their vertically integrated market power concentrations) and small Ag firms. Many moons ago, when I wrote, “Big Ag Vs Small Ag: Who Wins?”, I wrote,

“It's tempting to think of David and Goliath, when you start looking at the bigger picture. Perhaps, nimble Goliaths of small Ag may not have the distribution muscles of the Davids of Big Ag world. But, that isn't a disadvantage, if you know how to play against your opponents.”

In response to my commentary, a regular reader, pointing to Bayer’s Better Life Farming Foundation - which brings together various stakeholders, including farmers, Netafim, and World Finance Corporation- wrote an insightful comment:

“Talking of collaborations, the big boys will do it. The startups at best have a product that is yet to have a market fit. So what would be a basis for two startups to collaborate?”

Lest you dismiss me as a pessimist, what excites me in pursuing this thread is figuring out the ground conditions to create “chaordic” organizations that bring together “chaos” of competition along with the “order” of collaboration.

If your immediate response is to dismiss it as naive idealism, consider the story of Visa.

When the credit card industry was on the brink of destruction during the sixties, it took one maverick, Dee Hock, to change the rules of the game. It helped that Dee Hock was a systems thinker and thought, well, different from the rest of the leaders in the banking industry.

A new organization - ‘with a nonstock, for-profit membership corporation with ownership in the form of non-transferable rights of participation’- was formed with Dee W. Hock as CEO.

Hock designed the organization according to his philosophy: highly decentralized and highly collaborative. Authority, initiative, decision making, wealth — everything possible is pushed out to the periphery of the organization, to the members. This design resulted from the need to reconcile a fundamental tension. On the one hand, the member financial institutions are fierce competitors: they — not Visa — issue the cards, which means they are constantly going after each other’s customers. On the other hand, the members also have to cooperate with each other: for the system to work, participating merchants must be able to take any Visa card issued by any bank, anywhere.”

- Source: Fast Company Story on Dee W. Hock

Can we expect to see a resurgence of Dee Hock’s radical ideas in agriculture with the advent of tokenomics solutions? In other words, Can we see the likes of Colony for agriculture?

I am learning and exploring. Do share any more examples from the world of crypto, if you think I must check it out.

Enjoy your Sunday!