August 25, 2016

Can Agro-Startups Do the Trick?

By Vidya Vemireddy, Ph.D. Candidate, Applied Economics, Cornell University, and 2016 Next Generation Delegate

In India, starting the day with a cup of tea and a newspaper is something that we all do. But the simplicity of this scene fades as soon as one opens the newspaper. On one page, news that India is witnessing a rising number of farmer suicides every year, and on the next , news about India’s underutilized youth population—the largest in the world. A few questions come to mind: how can the problems that plague Indian agriculture, and lead to suicides, be solved? And particularly, how can the youth of today help solve some of these problems? One of the potential solutions is businesses that enable a smooth functioning of farming operations: start-ups!

Start-ups have been all the rage in a number of social sectors for years now, but even still, there are major gaps in start-up culture in industries where entrepreneurship is encouraged in India. Agriculture, for example, is one of these gaps, but the Entrepreneurship Fund, instituted by the Government of India under the Startup India Initiative, is expected to give a boost to India’s growing start-up culture, with particular emphasis on social enterprises.

How entrepreneurship can be used to solve problems in agriculture remains a debate. In regional economies, there are many small entrepreneurs working on business solutions to problems at hand. This is commendable, but solving big gaps requires a coordinated effort. How can these entrepreneurs be better coordinated? Given the spread of mobile technology in India, information dissemination may be the key!

The rigid nature of farming practices, coupled with rapid changes in market conditions, make information dissemination absolutely necessary. My personal research has revealed that farmers often lack complete knowledge on appropriate input use, soil quality, and other factors. It makes one wonder how the immense knowledge created by agricultural universities is not reaching these farmers? With the spread of mobile technology in India, something as simple as a phone app that can help farmers navigate fertilizer and input usage could change everything!  However, a solution isn’t that simple: remember, most farmers in the region don’t have internet or smartphones.

Another information-related challenge is getting farmers data on prevailing market prices to ensure that they receive a fair price for their produce and increase their bargaining power. Some research has shown that such information can really help farmers with respect to price realization. So that begs the question: can a start-up be formed to help farmers get daily market prices on their phones?

These are just a few ideas that have crossed my mind while doing fieldwork. A number of entrepreneurs and other stakeholders are working to solve some of these pressing issues. However, a much more coordinated effort on the part of the global community is essential to identify the most important and immediate challenges. Speeding up the process to make such innovative ideas successful and ensuring that they reach the beneficiaries is the absolute need of the hour!

Read previous posts in the Next Generation Delegation 2016 Commentary Series:



The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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