Sunday Reflections (16/05/21)
In doing what I am doing, what am I really doing?
Greetings from Hyderabad!
I write Sunday Reflections in pursuit of one question - In doing what I am doing, what am I really doing?
Yesterday, I had great fun publishing my tweetstorm essay, Why Technology is a Second Order Priority *Right Now* in Indian Agriculture? (13 min long read)
I explored a question that I felt was extremely relevant to what is currently happening in the Indian Agtech scene: What happens when technology leapfrogs faster than inadequate agricultural market infrastructure?
Dr. Hema Yadav shared with me her research report linking markets to ENAM (Electronic National Agricultural Markets) in the eastern state of Odisha. In response to my anecdote of a small holder farmer unable to sell his produce, she shared a key conclusion which she had argued in context with the state of Odisha: “Regulated market committees have adequate infrastructure, but the absence of trading is conspicuous in these markets”.
Lokesh Karkaria argued that market infrastructure is never the weak link. It is TIME which is the weakest link, as the journey from farm to fork is always a race against time. He brought up an important point which I had earlier touched upon when I wrote my essay, “No Country for Middle Men”
Ganesh Hegde argued that this problem can be addressed only when farm produces are price tagged at a farm level. Although this is a good idea, but, in reality, it is very difficult to implement as traceability systems haven’t yet been implemented at the furthest last mile.
Karthik Arumugham emphasized the need for low cost innovations in warehousing space. He shared a fascinating case study of a low cost cold storage that preserves agricultural produce at 1/10th cost. He also wondered if more farmers and FPOs could participate in commodity trading to hedge risks. (We are not there yet!)
Rahul Prakash added a nice, philosophical quip while talking about Eastern States which have been laggards in agricultural growth: When you remove tech from agri, agri still survives. However, when you remove agri from tech, nothing is left.
Beneath the essay is an attempt to establish an important axiomatic principle that underpins my thinking on agriculture: Market Structure Follows Context.
(When I say context, what I am referring to is the sum total of the history that has shaped the particular operating market environment)
The crux of the problem is this: Technology has both tool and infrastructure instincts.(There is a nice german word which I once learned which describes this: Nutzungsoffenheit!)
In the absence of real physical infrastructure, technology can easily blur the lines between playing the role of a tool and an infrastructure. And that has real consequences if left unchecked.
How do we strengthen the infrastructure for the tool to achieve its full potential?
We’ll keep exploring. Enjoy your Sunday!