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Though agriculture is the main occupation in India’s rural, which is home to two-thirds of India’s population, its GDP contribution stands at 13.7 percent. It is no surprise that the state of India’s agriculture has caused mass migration of labour from agriculture to sectors like construction. It also has helped augur the disdain young people have for agriculture.
In such a scenario, it is hard to imagine people entering the sector with the hope of changing the landscape. Two young well educated men broke the convention by turning towards India’s rural; unlike the general pursuits of young people opting for white colour jobs with huge compensation and easily recognisable social standing.
“When we started our initiative we spent a lot of time travelling. So, it was not ‘how are you?’ whenever Mark and I spoke on the phone, instead it was ‘where are you?’ This is how we began our journey,” recalled Jinesh Shah, the founder-partner of Omnivore Partners. It was with Harvard-educated Mark Kahn he co-founded Omnivore Partners in 2010. Then Mark was working at Godrej Agrovet and Shah was associated with Nexus Venture Partners.
Omnivore Partners is a Godrej Agrovet-backed venture fund investing in early stage agriculture and food technology companies in India. It supports entrepreneurs who are developing solutions to improve farm productivity, increase agricultural sustainability, modernize agribusiness supply chains, and promote farm-sourced food products.
“I observed that rural could be as sophisticated as rural. It was also the realisation that if India is to grow then India’s rural should also grow, and in it technology should play a role. If India has to have enough food then technology should be incorporated. And there are problems in agriculture, and the problems are solve-able. When we founded Omnivore, it was clear us to that our initiatives should enhance the productivity of Indian farmers,” Shah explained.
The partners were always on the move, meeting farmers, scientists, trade bodies to explain them of what we were doing. Today, Omnivore claims that its investments are operational across 231 districts, 71 in North, 61 in West, 56 in South and 46 in East, covering 21 states. Its investment targets ‘India's most vulnerable districts’. It claims that 90 percent of portfolio presence is in districts characterised as having medium to very high agricultural vulnerability, and 65 percent in districts characterised as having medium to very high income vulnerability.
“In the beginning, it was us going and explaining what they could get in return,” reminisced Shah. “Farmers understand what are the problems. We go in, talk to them and find out how we can help them, and at the same time we make sure they understand that we are not there to rob them off their business.”
It is no exaggeration to state that the technological innovations developed by its partner firms have impacted farming. Data on the impact created by Eruvaka's diagnostic equipment was collected from 12 farmers across 4 districts in Andhra Pradesh. It has been discovered that more than 150 aquaculture farms have been secured. The application has also reduced 40 percent of araetor usage and helped eliminate chemical oxygen release agents.
And to assess Khedut's planting and seeding equipment’s impact, 35 farmers across Gujarat were surveyed. Its technology has enabled 23 percent reduction in fertiliser use, 15 percent increase in yield, 27 percent reduction in seeds wastage and decrease in drudgery. These are among the few drawn from the long list.
India’s agriculture sector fulfills only 50 to 60 percent of the potential yield for most crops. Private capital participation in processing, branding and marketing that has driven the agriculture sector in several developing countries is going to take off in India.
“We constantly think about technology trends and sectoral transformation. The action part of our job is finding start-ups to invest in and getting hands-on to help these early stage companies grow,” added Shah.
Such initiative is bound to reshape the paradigm of rural youths, and can guarantee higher yield and incorporation of technologies to farming. It will also deter labour migration and slow down rural to urban migration. And with financial empowerment of India’s two-thirds population, the landscape of India can be altered.