Saturday Sprouting Reads (UPL Vs Bayer, Food Quality Digitisation, Sri Lanka, Fertiliser Crisis)
I also invited my researcher friend Subash to share his comments on Economic Survey 2021-22 chapter 11 – “Tracking development through satellite images and cartography”. He generously shared his thoughts here.
Greetings from Hyderabad! Welcome to the February fortnightly edition of Saturday Sprouting Reads!
My name is Venky. I write Agribusiness Matters every week to grapple with vexing questions of food, agribusiness, and digital transformation in an era of Climate change. Feel free to dig around the archives if you are new here.
About Sprouting Reads
If you've ever grown food in your kitchen garden like me, sooner than later, you would realize the importance of letting seeds germinate. As much as I would like to include sprouting as an essential process for the raw foods that my body loves to experiment with, I am keen to see how this mindful practice could be adapted for the food that my mind consumes.
You see, comprehension is as much biological as digestion is.
And so, once in a while, I want to look at one or two articles closely and chew over them. I may or may not have a long-form narrative take on it, but I want to meditate slowly on them so that those among you who are deeply thinking about agriculture could ruminate on them as slowly as wise cows do. Who knows? Perhaps, you may end up seeing them differently.
Saturday Sprouting Reads goes out to 28.5 K+ curious agribusiness readers across the globe.I am accepting requests for unconventional content sponsorship experiments from contrarian agritech startups chasing the holy grail of sustainable impact. Do write to me if you want to collaborate.
Subscriber-Only: UPL Vs Bayer
How did UPL and Bayer Crop Science fare in 2021 with respect to digitizing Indian Agriculture?
If you contrast Bayer’s digital agriculture strategy with UPL’s digital agriculture strategy, the difference is stark.
While Bayer has collaborated with a variety of upstream agri inputs marketplace startups as their channel partners, UPL simply built one platform called nurture.farm that serves as their online marketplace for farmers.
Of course, UPL, at the downstream end, has collaborated with pixofarm, TeleSense to tap into agritech developments that complement their strengths.
The essential technological question when you study Bayer Vs UPL is this: Does a microservices approach work or does a monolith approach work in agriculture?
Based on Bayer’s and UPL’s annual reports, I do a deep-dive of their Indian digital agriculture strategy and intuit their likely future trajectories.
Subscriber-Only: Three Things They Don’t Tell You About Food Quality Digitization
Food Quality Digitization is an extremely hard problem to crack. And in order to take a shot at damn hard problems, it is often helpful to play the role of a philosopher (or at least pretend to be one).
In this article, I did a thought experiment.
I defined loosely quality (as the internal reality of the food) and grade (as the external reality of the food). And for the sake of the thought experiment, I postulated that quality and grade are not the same (even though they are obviously related).
Based on this postulation, I categorized two kinds of startups.
What is the whole point of this exercise? What is quality? What is grade?
When does it make sense to treat as if quality and grade are the same thing? When does it make sense to treat as if quality and grade are not the same thing?
These questions gave me interesting things to mull over the food supply chain complexities in Indian Agriculture.
What happened when Sri Lanka replaced water buffalo with a tractor?
When does a particular technology become appropriate in agriculture?
While grappling with a question of what autonomous self-driven tractors could mean for the future of agriculture (My colleague Rhishi has an excellent take on it), it may also be worthwhile to ponder a related question: What happens when water buffaloes are replaced with modern tractors?
Based on the work of Dr. Ranil Sena nayake , this is a fascinating twitter thread that shows how earlier societies deployed ecology, tradition, rituals for the service of agriculture.
Here is my favorite bit:
In case you think I am making all of this up. Here is an account from a farmer and from a scientist explaining the ritual in their respective languages.
Fertilizer Crisis is Coming Soon
Around 2021 November, I started tracking the fertilizer price crisis that was on its way to hitting the shores of agriculture and as we approach the end of January 2022, it is now snowballing into a major crisis across the developed, developing world.
This is a good Twitter thread if you want to know what its implications could be.
What happens when the prices of fertilizer and liquid nitrogen get tripled and quadrupled?
‘Corn for example typically takes about 600 pounds of fertilizer per acre, plus 50 gallons of liquid nitrogen’.
What happens when there is a corn shortage in the US and other countries which are dependent on this ‘foundational pillar of food supply’?
In South America, high fertilizer prices are going to dramatically affect coffee production…
Christina Ribeiro do Valle, who comes from a long line of coffee growers in Brazil, is this year paying three times what she paid last year for the fertilizer she needs. Coupled with a recent drought that hit her crop hard, it means Ms. do Valle, 75, will produce a fraction of her Ribeiro do Valle brand of coffee, some of which is exported.
There is also a shortage of fertilizer. “This year, you pay, then put your name on a waiting list, and the supplier delivers it when he has it,” she said.
Over in Africa, fertilizer prices could result in “30 million metric tons less food produced”
Meanwhile, North Korea is encouraging its citizens to make their own fertilizer to counter fertilizer shortage from China
State-run media has also been encouraging people to make "homemade" manure, The Daily Beast reported. A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK that residents had started "producing fertilizer from human waste" after authorities launched a 10-day drive to increase production.
Citizens were told to produce a quota of 150 kilograms of manure, with people working in state factories told to provide 500 kilograms between January 4 and January 14, Daily NK reported.
Not a bad idea, if you think about it. Are we ready to recycle our crap?
So, what do you think?
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