The 2022 Agribusiness Matters Year in Review
Round up of articles published in Agribusiness Matters with introspective, year-end hand-wringing review about why I do what I do at Agribusiness Matters.
It was only a year ago when I opened the 2021 Agribusiness Matters Year in Review by stating that I have been growing Agribusiness Matters like a sandalwood orchard.
“…Here is the thing: Instead of building their own roots, they grow by thriving on others’ roots.
Sandalwood is a hemiparasite. They meet their nutrition needs from hosts, while partly meeting the nutrition needs of their hosts. In a 2017 study that was conducted in Kerala, it was found that they grow their modified roots (called haustoria) up to a distance of 3 meters.
And that includes not just plants and trees, but also, grass.
Much like sandalwood trees which develop haustorial reciprocal connections with host plants, Agribusiness Matters has been drawing its nutrition from “outlier” agritech startups, while partly taking care of the nutrition needs of a few contrarian agritech startup founders.”
Although the sandalwood orchard has grown bigger, chasing bets that would scare the living daylights out of this poor soul - I became an investor with a portfolio of small agritech bets, I wrote a sponsored deep-dive with trepidation, I started writing “The Agrifood LifeSciences Files to keep up with the fascinating developments in life sciences and biology, I began to write stentorian sounding “The State of Agritech” pieces- I’ve stopped thinking of Agribusiness Matters in arboreal terms (related to trees).
The mental model that is tantalizingly alive right now is this.
What does it take to be an Agritech Schrodinger’s Cat that is neither too cosily snuggled inside the ecosystem to lose perspective of bigger problems such as Climate Change, nor too far outside the ecosystem to influence the live-fire consciousness of agritech founders and investors?
Sitting in this uncomfortable, liminal, neither-here-nor-there state is vital if I want to chase opposable thumb goals that may seem contradictory at first look until…you pause and look closer.
- do agenda-free sensemaking of the agritech ecosystem, outside the reality distortion field created by investors and agritech founders.
- discover leverage points to transform the food and agriculture system
I am NOT a journalist and given the nature of startups and their uncertainty, I rely on three data sources to make my subjective, ever-changing, weakly-held judgements about the agritech ecosystem. (I hate to be predictable about my opinions too. How else will I learn what is emerging?)
- Private Founder 1:1 Interviews conducted by me, Public Interviews in Media, Journalistic stories on the agritech ecosystem (be it a puff piece or a hit piece) and Founders’ LinkedIn Feeds to understand the startups’ intent and vision in good faith.
- Good-faith Numbers from Investor Presentations that come my way, Financial Data Filed in the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (Thanks to my first intern hire) and Annual Reports.
- My ongoing experience as an agritech consultant/investor translated through bespoke napkin strategy frameworks to place in context what the founders are building in agritech in conjunction with the ground realities of agriculture.
Much like blockbuster movies that are first released in theatres before they head to OTT platforms, most of my fresh-from-the-oven, R&D lab kinda agritech stories get first published inside the paywall for the paid subscribers of this newsletter.
Only when I feel confident that what I have written has been tested adequately, do I republish select pieces (those which are slightly broader in outlook) outside the paywall in LinkedIn several months later.
Why do I keep publishing more inside the paywall in an age of information overload?
In a domain like agriculture, there is a perceptional game, and then there is the operational game. The perceptional game needs nice-looking optics and numbers of impact and farmer engagement and all the niceties. The operational game is a hard-nosed business that looks at margins, EBITDA and ground realities concerning farmers, livelihoods, and climate change.
Publishing inside the paywall helps me go deep into grey spaces, beyond perceptional games. In a domain in which every agritech startup wants to do something about climate change, farmer incomes and feed the world sustainably, it can be disorienting to distinguish signal from noise, and understand the real underlying forces that are shaping the digitisation of agriculture in an age of climate emergency.
This year Agribusiness Matters published 21 subscriber-only pieces, 5 State of Agritech pieces, 17 Saturday Sprouting Reads editions, 3 subscriber-only podcast video episodes on a variety of themes - Climate change, State of Agrifintech, The Art of happy exit for founders.
As you can see from the number of stories, I publish only when I feel I have something worth your attention and money. I have been inconsistent with my publishing schedule (at the cost of losing a few subscribers) for this reason.
Every time I write about a new topic in Agribusiness Matters, the benchmark I set in my head is this:
Is my writing output sufficiently deep enough to get inside the live-fire stream of consciousness of agritech founders and investors who are working day in, day out in the industry, with an incredible depth of experience that is often equivalent to my age?
Here are the broader themes that I explored in 2022 with a sprinkling of editor’s comments. (I don’t have an editor!)
The Tale of David & Goliath: Once upon a time, agritech was synonymous with agri-input firms. Today, they are at crossroads: Do I stick to my core agronomy +/ channel-sales distribution expertise or do I give leadership reins to techies and let them penetrate the soul of the company?
Can Syngenta Build the Modern agriculture Platform for smallholding countries?
Can the Big Four Agri-Input Firms Grok Digital Transformation?
Goliathan Agritech Gameplays (Big 6 Agri Input Firms’ Agritech Gameplays))
Editor’s Note: Agritech Gameplays have been sufficiently covered for agri-input firms. 2023 will see more extensive coverage of Olam, Cargill, Bühler Group and other Goliathan agribusinesses.
Prediction Business: Given that I love to indulge in pattern matching of agritech gameplays across countries, for dopamine kicks, I practice making predictions and this year, one of my predictions turned out to be accurate. The other predictions will take time to show up and hopefully, I wish I could be wrong in some cases too (See the third prediction below). I do plan to keep track of my predictions to see how I have fared.
Mental models to think about drones and Predictions Of Drones Business Models
My Prediction for Syngenta Group building MAP for developing countries validated both a) inside Syngenta’s CropWise Grower App and b) through this post from a senior Syngenta executive.
Editor’s Note: 2023 Predictions in an Indian context would include 1) Agricultural Income to be taxed after elections 2) Farmers to get fertilizer subsidy amount deposited directly in their bank account. Expect more prognostications and predictions in 2023
Frameworks to organize significant sub-domains of agritech ecosystem:
Quality Digitization Ecosystem (“Three Things They Don’t Tell You About Food Digitization Quality”)
Blind Men and the Elephant called Rural Finance; Horizontal and Vertical Fintech Models
Reality Check on Agritech Hype Cycle to make sense of funding ecosystem
Understanding Agricultural Online Malls (through Bighaat)
Editor’s Note: 2023 will see explorations around Animal Agriculture, Bovine Economics, Goat Tech, Agri-Insurtech, Millet Economy and Irrigation Tech. I plan to do Agritech Hype Cycles for Europe, LATAM, and US Markets with collaborators.
Meta Frameworks to bridge the worlds of culture and agriculture:
Pace Layers in Food and Agriculture (How do you solve a problem like agritech?)
Is Agriculture a Business?(This has to be the one closest to my heart, staying true to the Agribusiness Matters ethos of navigating complexity without taking shortcuts.)
Rebooting Mahatma Gandhi’s Ideas and Platforming Rural India through Cooperatives
Editor’s Note: These stories are tricky to nail while being faithful to the scope of Agribusiness Matters. 2023 will hopefully see more around policy reforms, structural issues, centralisation vs decentralization in organizing agricultural markets
Desserts in Funding Winter: Unpacking Indian agritech startups’ funding (and intent to be funded) Stories gave me an opportunity to practice brevity and navigate startups’ stated visions in lieu of my existing frameworks in agritech.
Cropin || Bharat Krushi Seva || ApnaGodam (“Your Warehouse” in Hindi)|| Wheelocity || Agrigator || Agrograde || Eeki Foods ||
Editor’s Note: In 2023, I will do less of these, focusing more on stories where I do my analysis after doing deep dives with startup founders with a more comprehensive framework to place startups in their larger context orbit.
Agritech Ecosystems: I tracked different ecosystems briefly across the world at a 20K feet level in Saturday Sprouting Reads Editions.
Editor’s Note: In 2023, I hope to do adequate coverage for different agritech ecosystems through stories spanning across different ecosystems (See the Organic Luxury Belief Story which is a classic instance of a story connecting the US, Europe and Indian Markets).
Startups Outside India: Although my focus is largely on smallholding countries, I did cover a handful of startups in the US and Africa.
Leaf Agriculture || Bushel || Inner Plant|| iProcure
Editor’s Note: The coverage of startups outside India has been very much limited. 2023 should hopefully see more coverage from startups working in Europe, and Latam markets. I plan to dig more into the seed business, biomanufacturing and other allied sectors.
I’m deeply grateful to subscribers that I get to do this as a 1/4th job (as of now). I hope to do this better in 2023. I am looking forward to a fantastic 2023. Wish you all a Happy New Year.
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