US tech giants about to get their hands on India’s $24 billion worth of farm data

New Delhi has signed preliminary agreements with US tech giants to share farm statistics as part of an ambitious government-led productivity drive aimed at transforming the nation’s outdated agricultural industry.

According to a Bloomberg report, starting from April, Amazon, Microsoft and Cisco Systems will be able to harness farm data that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has been gathering since coming to power in 2014.

The government wants to ensure food security in the world’s second-most populous nation and is betting that the private sector could help farmers boost yields with apps and tools. This week the government said that Jio Platforms and tobacco giant ITC are among local powerhouses that have signed up for the program.

India’s $488 billion farm sector employs almost half of the nation’s 1.3 billion people and accounts for about 18% of the economy. With the new project the government aims to boost rural incomes, cut imports, and reduce food waste with better infrastructure. If that works out, India could also compete with exporters such as Brazil, the US and the European Union.

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Ernst & Young estimates that India’s agri-tech industry has the potential to reach some $24 billion in revenue by 2025, with the current penetration being only 1%. It has also a chance to deploy networks, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

“This is a high impact industry and private players are sensing the opportunity and want to be a large part of it,” Ankur Pahwa, a partner at consultancy EY India, told Bloomberg. “India has a very high amount of food wastage because of lack of technology and infrastructure. So, there’s a huge upside to the program.”

Under the agreement, the big tech companies can help the Indian government to offer tech solutions for farm-to-fork services, which farmers will be able to access at their doorstep. As part of a pilot program, Microsoft has selected 100 villages to deploy AI and machine learning and build a platform. Amazon, which has already started offering real-time advice and information to farmers through a mobile app, is offering cloud services to solution providers.

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Besides the tech giants, many smaller companies and startups are likely to join the program. Some critics, however, say the government is giving the private sector a greater sway, which could hurt small and vulnerable farmers.

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