Agri-food startups to play a key role in developing self-reliant India: Shiksha Mantri

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Shri Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ flagged off the Agri-Food Techathon at IIT Kharagpur and also laid the foundation for Agri-Business Incubation Centre, which will incubate innovative ideas in the agriculture and food technology domain for creating Agri-preneures.

Addressing the first Agri-Food Techathon organized by NABARD and IIT Kharagpur, Union Education Minister Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ said that the country’s agricultural sector, including our farmers, our villages, are the pillars of self-reliant India.

“If they remain strong then the foundation of self-reliant India will be strong and I believe that the role of agri-food startups will be very important in developing a self-reliant India.”

This Techathon has been organized to promote the participation of the youth of India in innovation and entrepreneurship in various sectors of the agri-food sector. This Agri-Food Techathon will identify new ideas for startup incubation in the region and help them become successful businesses. The main objective of this event is to find new solutions to agricultural problems through technical talks by encouraging academics and encouraging young farmers, besides spreading awareness is also an important objective of this program.

NABARD Chairman Dr. GR Chintala, IIT Kharagpur Director Prof V K Tiwari, Deputy Director Prof S K Bhattacharya, Head of Agriculture and Food Engineering and Center for Rural Development and Innovative Sustainable Technology, Prof Rintu Banerjee, Rajendra Mishra of IIT Kharagpur Professor CS Kumar, Head of School of Engineering Entrepreneurship, Professor HN Mishra, Nodal Officer, Agriculture Business Incubation Center, IIT Kharagpur were also present.

The Honorable Minister said, “I am happy that Agri-Food Tekathon is associated with Shastri’s ideal of ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’. Shastri started the Green Revolution to make India self-reliant. He believed in the powers of farmers to bring a revolution in India’s agricultural ecosystem. He believed in the strong relationship between farmers – food grains and life. “

Dr. Nishank said that West Bengal has the potential to start a second Green Revolution. While laying the foundation stone of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in Barhi, the Hon’ble Prime Minister also said that West Bengal is the focal point for bringing agricultural reform in India.

Apart from this, he also apprised everyone about various schemes launched by the government for agriculture and farmers’ welfare and said that the Hon’ble Prime Minister has set a target of doubling the income of farmers by 2022-23 and the Government of India has taken several steps for the overall and sustainable development of Indian agriculture.

Talking about agri-food startups, the Union Minister said, “Indian agriculture can be improved to a great extent with the help of advanced agri-technology. In this case, there is a huge scope for agri-food startups in India. In a decade, the indomitable spirit of launching educated youth, innovative ideas and advanced technical and business ideas has been given a new height to Indian agriculture. “

Agri-food startups are bringing a big change in the Indian food and agriculture sector by removing the shortcomings of the agricultural value chain, providing efficient products, technology and services to both farmers and consumers. They are providing services such as ICT app, farm automation, weather forecasting services, drones, inputs retailing, equipment hire, online vegetable marketing, smart poultry and dairy, protected farming and innovative food processing and packaging. In 2018, there were around 500 agri startups in India which is very encouraging as these startups have raised around $ 130 million in investment in the last five years.

Dr. Nishank further said, “I am happy that the measures being adopted by IIT Kharagpur have been integrated with the National Education Policy. Our new education policy is focused on interdisciplinary education and will ensure what students want to learn. Likewise, this Agri-Food Tekathon will identify new concepts and new ideas for agri-food startup incubation and will also help in transforming these start-ups into successful business ventures. Also, according to our new education policy, vocational education will start in schools from sixth grade and will include internships. Increasing the importance of vocational education will greatly benefit the growth of agri-food startups. “

Apart from this, he also said that today as our country is moving forward to become self-reliant, the role of agri-food startups is equally important in strengthening the identity of Brand India. I hope that the Agri-Business Incubation Center will empower Indian agriculture by nurturing new ideas and inspiring agri-food startups and taking us to a new height.

The two-months long national-level online technical fest at IIT Kharagpur will have participation from over 750 university/college students, entrepreneurs and rural youths from across the country in the age range of 20-25 years with diverse academic backgrounds. 

Speaking on the occasion, Dr. G.R. Chintala, Chairman, NABARD, who was the Guest of Honor, said, “Keeping in mind the requirement of technological interventions in the agriculture sector, this techathon will create an ecosystem for the youth of our country to share the knowledge for improving the conventional farming practices for the benefit of our farmers. Agri-Food Techathon 2021 will provide a great boost to the young startups working on cost-efficient technologies for the agriculture sector.”

Highlighting the unique aspects of Agri-Food Techathon 2021 initiative, Prof. V.K. Tewari, Director, IIT Kharagpur, spoke about moving at a fast pace to achieve the target of 125 incubatees in the next five years through Agri-Business Incubation Centre (ABIC).

“In order to meet the food requirements of 135 crore people, we require innovation. We need to produce more out of small land. Our Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has already said in 2015 that by 2022, the income of the farmer must be doubled. We are also working on that aspect. The population involved in agriculture is shrinking due to their movement to construction, infrastructure development and other activities due to various reasons. There is a need for more and more mechanisation and innovation. Until and unless we use technology such as AI/ML, image processing, Embedded systems and IoT, it will not be possible to maximise the income of the farmer and maximise the yield out of the land. IIT Kharagpur has trained over 11,000 farmers in the last ten years on various kinds of irrigation water, drip irrigation and many other ideas from this Department,” he said.

Special emphasis will be given through action-oriented research to promote climate-resilient agriculture in vulnerable districts, agricultural value chains, promote farmers’ collectives, value addition, market-linkage, and risk management; also offering expert advisory services, policy advocacy including building up of human capital in rural areas. 

Urging the participants to avail of the opportunities from this Techathon, Prof. Sriman Kumar Bhattacharyya, Deputy Director, IIT Kharagpur, said, “Over the years, IIT Kharagpur has taken several unique initiatives to address the major challenges of the society. The Department of Agricultural and Food Engineering at IIT Kharagpur is also one such unique initiative that is contributing to the agriculture development of our country through its innovative research. Agri-Tech Hackathon 2021 is another progressive step of our Institute to deliver to the goals of Atmanirbhar Bharat.”

By Poulami Mondal

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