Agritech is the set of all those technological solutions aimed at innovating the agri-food sector and improving the food and agricultural industry, transforming it into smart agriculture.
Agritech, known by various names like ag-tech or digital agriculture, involves using technology and digital tools in farming. This includes a variety of technologies like automation, biotechnology, monitoring information, and analyzing data.
Its main goal is to make farming more efficient, increase crop yields, cut expenses, and promote sustainability. In recent years, as the need for food rises and concerns about food security due to climate change grow, Agritech has gained significant importance.
In Bangladesh, the agricultural pursuit of sustainable and profitable farming, encounters hurdle due to small, fragmented farm sizes. With an average holding of 0.60 hectares, considerably below the global standard, this fragmentation impedes productivity, posing a risk to food security.
Harmonizing the agricultural vision with broader macro-level strategies such as the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 and Digital Bangladesh is crucial. This integration highlights how Agritech intertwines with the country’s overarching developmental aspirations.
Bangladesh, deeply rooted in agriculture, grows various crops like rice, wheat, jute, maize, pulses, and diverse vegetables, playing a crucial role in the country’s economy. In the fiscal year 2021-22, agriculture contributed around 12% (11.66%) to the GDP and provided employment for more than 2 crore people, making up 43% of the total labor force.
Over recent decades, Bangladesh has aimed to achieve complete self-sufficiency in food production. With 161 lakh hectares of cropland, it commercially cultivates rice, wheat, maize, mustard, potatoes, and various fruits and vegetables. The country ranks 3rd globally in rice and vegetable production and 2nd in fish.
This agricultural progress is largely due to government support, including reduced fertilizer prices, opening bank accounts for farmers, direct transfer of irrigation subsidies, and providing material support to millions of farmers. The government also subsidizes agricultural machinery in 35 districts, offers free fertilizer and seeds, and provides incentives for certain rice varieties.
Despite this assistance, many farmers still face financial challenges. Obtaining loans from institutions like Krishi Bank, BRAC Bank, or NGOs can be difficult due to paperwork, pushing farmers toward high-interest loans from local lenders or relatives. Additionally, fluctuations in crop prices often lead to most profits being used to repay debts.
Economic Contribution: GDP Share (2021-22): 12% (11.66%)
Employment Provided: > 2 crore people (43% of total labor force)
- Diverse Vegetables
In the early 21st century, farming in Bangladesh was predominantly manual, relying on traditional tools like plows and cows. Today, the country embraces technology across agriculture, fisheries, and animal husbandry, employing tractors, power tillers, and specialized machinery for tasks like sowing, fertilizing, and harvesting. Importers like ACI Motors facilitate access to these advanced machines. While technology adoption has boosted crop production, its uptake remains low due to high costs, limiting its reach to larger agro farms. Advanced technologies such as Automated Cleaning Robots and IoT-based systems are gradually emerging but are predominantly utilized by larger farms due to their expense. For remote farmers, manual labor remains the primary method due to the inaccessible costs of these technologies.
However, a wave of Agritech startups has emerged in Bangladesh within a short span, aiming to empower rural farmers by mitigating financial barriers. These startups offer low-interest loans, agricultural guidance, affordable seeds and fertilizers, introduce assistive technologies, and ensure fair pricing and improved living standards through supply chain support.
Agritech in Bangladesh
- Output Sales
- Supply Chain Management
- Established in 2019
- 84,000+ farmers aided
- Tk 204 crore in funding
Rise of Agritech
Agritech enterprises in Bangladesh encompass a spectrum of agricultural aspects, spanning inputs, financing, output sales, and supply chain complexities. Notably, iFarmer, a prominent startup since 2019, specializes in low-cost, collateral-free financing, aiding over 84,000 farmers with Tk 204 crore in funding.
Although the Agritech landscape in Bangladesh has flourished over the past decade, it calls for a more diverse array of startups capable of effectively tackling the multifaceted challenges in agriculture. Crucial sectors like AI image sensing, aquaculture, and educational/training solutions remain underrepresented among startups. Diversification not only fosters healthy competition but also furnishes comprehensive solutions to the intricate issues faced by farmers.
Agritech isn’t merely a statistic; it intricately intertwines with the lives of countless farmers, serving as the backbone of Bangladesh’s agriculture. Despite its significant contribution to GDP and employment, the agricultural sector contends with deeply entrenched systemic issues.
In response, a wave of inventive Agritech startups has emerged, each presenting distinct solutions to alleviate the challenges faced by farmers.
- iFarmer connects farmers with investors for agricultural projects, empowering small-scale farmers to boost productivity and income.
- Agroshift sources directly from farmers, ensuring fair prices and increased margins.
- Fashol links farmers to retailers, elevating income and market access for agricultural goods.
- WeGro facilitates financing for agricultural ventures, enhancing productivity and income for farmers.
- Green Grocery promotes organic produce, providing farmers with market access and boosting income sustainably.
- Insurecow offers tech-powered cattle insurance, safeguarding farmers from losses and ensuring livestock well-being.
These startups represent the evolving impact of Agritech in Bangladesh’s agricultural landscape.
ULAB’s CES Webinar Echoes
During a recent webinar hosted by the Centre for Enterprise and Society (CES) at ULAB, Agritech startup founders convened to discuss existing market challenges.
A unified agreement surfaced among the panelists, emphasizing the crucial need for continuous support through policy measures and ecosystem-level interventions. These measures are seen as vital for ensuring the endurance and triumph of Agritech startups.
- Bangladesh’s Agritech sector, emerging in the last decade, lacks diverse startups addressing broader agricultural challenges like AI, aquaculture, and education. A more varied range of startups can bring competition and comprehensive solutions to farmers’ multifaceted issues.
- Investment challenges extend beyond Agritech to the entire ecosystem. Bangladesh’s food and agriculture startups have received around $14 million, significantly below their potential compared to India and Indonesia, considering Bangladesh’s agricultural significance.
- Bangladesh’s corporate culture historically prefers in-house solutions, hindering optimal outcomes. Collaborating with Agritech startups offers fresh perspectives and specialized expertise, fostering growth, innovation, and mutually beneficial relationships in agriculture and technology.
- Agritech startups in Bangladesh need a sustainable, long-term strategy. The era of aggressive expansion is waning in the challenging global investment landscape. Prioritizing sustainable profitability for the long haul is crucial for these startups.
- Several Agritech firms prioritize aggregation, yet a more integrated approach yields more effective solutions. Emphasizing depth over breadth better addresses the specific needs of target audiences. Avoiding resource dispersion is crucial, prioritizing depth over broad coverage.
- Boosting farmers’ digital literacy is crucial for optimizing Agritech benefits. Implementing training and education programs ensures farmers can effectively leverage technology for their advantage.
In conclusion, Agritech transcends mere buzzword status, serving as a transformative catalyst for Bangladesh’s agricultural sector. It presents solutions to systemic challenges that have long weighed down farmers across generations.