The Upcoming Tectonic Shifts in Food and Agri Supply Chains

Karthik Jayaraman

What if you could predict the onset of a disease in your pomegranate orchard days in advance and take preventive action? If you could just stick a probe into your soil and figure out exactly how healthy your soil is, or if machines could operate at ultra-high speeds and sort fresh produce not just based on their color and size but also their sweetness and taste, wouldn’t that make it so much easier? What if your retailer could seamlessly integrate into a complex supply chain and alleviate its inventory woes?

So many of these scenarios are now becoming a reality. 

For a long time, the food and agri space has been the country cousin of the more glamorous segments in the startup world such as grocery e-commerce, last-mile food delivery, and quick commerce. The set of folks, technocrats, engineers, coders, and others working in this space has been seen as idealists toiling away in the dust. It has been deemed as unlively to adopt technology – impossible to scale and, frankly, too boring. However, there is a significant tectonic shift occurring in this space.

The entire food and agricultural supply chain will make a fundamental transformation in the next 20 years, using and gaining from more technology than what was made available to it, and absorbed by it in the past 200 years i.e., the entire period of the industrial revolution. Further, the inflection point of invention and absorption has already been crossed, and we are firmly in the phase where early adopters are rapidly scaling and triggering escalating interest in mainstream users. Lastly, the absorption of technology will be worldwide, and not just restricted to a few developed countries. In fact, emerging economies will leapfrog developed countries in this.

I saw evidence of this in Dubai where WayCool unveiled its complete technology stack for the first time. The quality of enquiries (over 180 serious queries) we received, and the sense of urgency amongst all operators in the supply chain for solid, mobile-first, scalable, and completely integrated technology solutions, whether it is farm tech or distribution tech, was astonishing. These customers were not dabbling curiously in little experiments. No, these seasoned practitioners were very clear in their ask – complete, climate-agile solutions that ensured consistent yield, superior performance, reduced costs, and predictable returns on agricultural investments at the farm end, and cohesive solutions that exponentially deflated waste and inventory while dramatically improving service levels.

Another point is the rapidity with which Indian farmers and retailers are taking to technology. We recently launched the second version of our Outgrow super-app for farmers. We had 27,000 downloads in 10 days, 3,764 active users, and more than 2,118 users using our AI-based disease detection tool. Interestingly, more than 25% of the farmers connected with our agri-doctors through the in-app chat. A lot of myths are getting busted here.

For long, commerce has been valued over technology, and many companies have been forced to deploy their otherwise formidable capabilities toward solving simplistic issues such as commercial transactions. That's changing quickly. As candy floss capitalism fuelled by artificial liquidity tapers down once again, technology is going to eat commerce for breakfast in the food and agri supply chain.

We continue to invest in our tech stack even as we respond to the push to build and scale a commerce platform. It gave us a head-start, despite the view from the outside world that we were doing something that was perhaps a bit too complex. We will continue betting on this, and build our stack which is already one of the most comprehensive on the planet.

A lot of folks have bypassed betting on this space in the past decade while pumping their dollars into thinner, somewhat trivial models. There are others who went ahead with their due diligence of the sector and its participants but were stopped by red lights when it came to actually make bets. Well, those red lights just turned out to be the taillights of the bus that you missed.

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