Agriculture is the lifeline of the Indian economy. With nearly half of the country's workforce dependent on this sector, it is confronted with challenges of low productivity, investments and incomes. Agricultural productivity and incomes are today also seriously threatened by climate change and depleting natural resources, even as the rising population calls for enhanced food and livelihood security. The sector plays a major role in supporting livelihoods and ensuring food security for millions. There are also several evolving opportunities that can help reimagine the future of the agri sector. Today, enhanced consumer choices in favour of more variety, safe and nutritious food require a major reorganisation of the agricultural value chains through transmission of consumer demand signals to enable an orbit-shift from the conventional production-centric supply chains to demand-responsive value chains anchored by market players. It is, therefore, mission critical to usher in NexGen agriculture and enhance farmer incomes to sustain a virtuous cycle of consumption, investment and employment. ITC is committed to make a meaningful contribution to this new era of agricultural transformation. The strategic focus is on accelerating adoption of advanced technologies to create new and scalable revenue streams, whilst benefitting farmers.
Leveraging the Company's enterprise strengths and its extensive engagement with agriculture over decades, ITC has, over the years designed and implemented large scale programmes that have supported the livelihoods of millions of Indian farmers. To unleash next generation agriculture, ITC's Agri Business has now embarked on its next phase of transformation. The objective is to foster demand-responsive value-chains, promote climate-smart agriculture and digitally empower farmers. To bring the benefits of cutting-edge digital technologies and unlock the potential of Indian agriculture, ITC has launched ITCMAARS (Metamarket for Advanced Agriculture and Rural Services), a pioneering 'phygital' (a combination of physical and digital interventions) ecosystem that provides an array of new age agri solutions to empower farmers. ITCMAARS offers a full range of crop agnostic hyperlocal services, enabling enhanced incomes for farmers, whilst helping them adopt the recommended practices to combat the threat of climate change. At the same time, the model also strengthens competitiveness of ITC's Agri and Foods Businesses by ensuring traceable high quality agri sourcing.
The ITCMAARS 'Phygital' model encompasses physical engagement on the ground with FPOs as the pivot, whilst bringing the power of digital technologies to farmers in the form of a super app. The ITCMAARS super app, which farmers can download on their phones, acts as a single point resource for farmers, providing personalised agricultural services through a plug and play model. It is also building an ecosystem for AgTech startups to 'Plug and Scale'.
FPOs have tremendous potential to serve as major facilitators for augmenting farm livelihoods by enabling both aggregation efficiencies and targeted delivery of farm solutions. They can become a facilitator in agri transformation, acting as a crucial link between markets and individual farmers, especially those with small and marginal land holdings. Contributing significantly to the Government's drive to promote and strengthen FPOs, ITCMAARS has seamlessly integrated them into the model. The 'phygital' ecosystem of ITCMAARS involves ground-level engagement through Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs). They provide physical staging point for inputs and outputs supply chains in villages. They also leverage ITC's trust and presence in village communities.
Customized Crop and Weather Advisory - Crop, location and weather based specific crop advisory is being disseminated through ITCMAARS in a 'phygital' manner, wherein relevant information is provided through mobile application, real-time query resolution is done through a call centre and on field support is provided through field teams. 'Crop Doctor' - the AI enabled Image Analytics feature of ITCMAARS offers real-time identification of pest and expert consultation helps in timely resolution of the problem and avoiding crop loss. A notification-based, crop-specific periodic advisory system called 'Crop Calendar' helps farmers plan their farming activities systematically without missing any important schedule. 'Customised Nutrition' enables recommendations of crop nutrition at a farmer level basis the specific soil characteristics of the individual land plots thereby enabling improvement in crop yields and quality. New age technologies such as Remote sensing based crop monitoring are also enabled for the benefits of the farmers. The super-app is also multi-lingual ensuring delivery of advisory in all major regional languages.
Climate Smart Technologies and Sustainable Farming - ITCMAARS allows farmers to produce crops in a sustainable manner and mitigate the devastating effects of climate change by sustainably increasing the farm productivity and farmers' income, strengthening the farmers' resilience to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by agriculture.
ITCMAARS disseminates information about climate resilient and high yielding crop varieties to farmers. It provides guidance on crop diversification and enables promotion of climate smart agri practices through use of bio-fertilisers, bio-pesticides and nano-fertilisers.
The services available on ITCMAARS catalyse progress towards the company's Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) programme's goals.
Partnerships enabling Use of Emerging Technologies - ITCMAARS has strong, effective and efficient technical partners including Agtech Start-ups who innovate customised solutions that cater to various needs of the farmers. The super app offers site-specific nutrient management through instant soil tests and facilitates crop health monitoring through remote sensing. It also enables drone-based fertilization services as well as precision farming through IoT (internet of things) devices like solar power weather stations and moisture sensors.
E-platform to purchase inputs - As a digital platform it provides advisory backed inputs and improves access to the right inputs at the right time. This helps farmers in better pest management which helps in increasing productivity.
Agri Credit Facilities - ITCMAARS facilitates use of Kisan Credit Card (KCC) and input loans for farmers and pre-approved working capital loan for FPOs. Farmers with access to credit are more likely to adopt climate smart agri practices and other precision farming techniques.
E-marketplace to sell produce - The platform facilitates easy market access for farmers to sell their produce with a freedom of choice. ITCMAARS provides transparent price information to farmers while the standing as a willing buyer.
Capacity-building - The app enables better training and information-dissemination around varied issues such as climate change impacts and relevant farming interventions. Moreover, through ITCMAARS, ITC does capacity-building and handholding of its FPOs on governance and compliance issues and operations management.
Community - ITCMAARS also provides a community platform in the superapp, enabling sharing of farming best practices, dissemination of expert advice, and resolution of varied issues by farmers.
ITCMAARS has, so far, been launched in 9 States - Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It has empowered over 500,000 farmers through more than 1100 FPOs. The model already covers agri value chains such as wheat, soybean and millets. Several banking partners (such as State Bank of India, Axis Bank and IDFC First Bank), crop nutrition and protection majors (such as Bayer, BASF, Syngenta, Corteva Agrisciences and Coromandel) and multiple ICAR Agri Institutes have come on board the super app. ITCMAARS will progressively cover as many as 4,000 FPOs, empowering 10 million Indian farmers by 2030.