Sunday, January 17, 2016

StartupIndia and OrganicSikkim – the perfect Jugal Bandi for our youth

By PD Rai

In India many startups are actually happening in the Organic Agri space. Little is known of or about them. They may not have found space in Vigyan Bhawan during the inauguration of #StartupIndia. Of course, overwhelmingly the glitz of Technology led startupswere there for everyone to see. They are the now famous ones in online marketing like Flipkart or those in transportation aggregation like Ola.

Prime Minister Modi flagged off #StartupIndia in New Delhi on 16th January. This is a fantastic initiative and we all applaud it. It has the architectureof giving entrepreneurs the space to do what they do best, creating products and services from ‘ideas’ and making them work – the startup ecosystem. After making them work finally curating them to be able to monetize it before ramping it up in terms of scale.

That an idea can fail and hence needs that exit route is planned well. Self certification is a key ingredient. This will take away the ‘babu’ or small time bureaucrats who have no clue as to what entrepreneurship is all about impeding the process. They do not even want to understand it. They just want to get in the way. They add friction and costs. All counterproductive. If I am writing all this, believe me I have had the opportunity to going down this road myself. But better, I have had the opportunity to listen to thousands of young people who have had to contend with this ‘harassment’. In one sweep our Prime Minister has gotten rid of this. Thumbs up to that.

Making it easier to register and get loans is the next big thing. Creating a tidy Rs. 10,000 Cr fund for start ups is also a great initiative.

If the Ministries all ensure that there is minimum Government, then I am sure the #StartupIndia will lift off.

Now to making the main argument. Why should this be limited just to Technology led start ups. What we need to do is to connect it to Agriculture. Make AgriTech Startups cool. This is where the real fun is going to be because India’s teeming millions of young people will have to be part of the food security apparatus. This needs careful handling as there is a message in the Startup plan that only Tech Startups are in. Agro-Startups will enhance our ability to grow our food locally and build the largest food basket in the world. Such startups will have the resilience to adapt to the vagaries of weather induced by Climate Change.

Will NABARD be up to the task? Can they leverage the fundamental momentum that is being given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in solving the key issue of young people leaving their farms and going elsewhere?

Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim is playing host to the Agriculture Ministers of India Meet which was flagged off by Union Minister Radha Mohan Singh and Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling yesterday. Sustainability and welfare of Farmers is the thematic which all Ministers have to deliberate on and come up with some concrete suggestions for the Prime Minister, who is going to listen to the outcomes before he speaks on the occasion today.

The keynote speech was given by Dr. Ramesh Chand, Member NITI Aayog. He is a long time professional in the field of agriculture. What he said was remarkable. He aligned completely with the theme of this article. How can we make #StartupIndia available to the farming sector? Hence there is a meeting of minds here. It is not just about giving sops but now turning to making farming profitable once again with cheaper input costs.

Critically technology is available for the farms. Many young and Tech background people have found solace and their calling in buying poor and degraded land and making them into vibrant Agri businesses. There are many instances out there. Take for instance the Lumiere Organic, headed by Manjunath and headquartered in Bangalore. They started with just growing what is now known as Organic Food and Vegetables. They now have a roaring Organic Food Restaurant. Guess who are their main customers? Technology fatigued souls from Bangalore’s millions working in all the Hi Tech industries! All looking for the Organic balm.

Manjunath wants to source products from far away Sikkim.

So now what is required? Get young entrepreneurs to do just what Manjunath and many others have done. Young people need to get the space to start and if need fail. This is what entrepreneurship is all about.

Sikkim, under Chief Minister Pawan Chamling has created a State that is fully organic. Sikkim is the brand. Sikkim needs to be leveraged. Can we now marry Prime Minister Modi’s #StartupIndia with #OrganicSikkim and field a 1,000 young entrepreneurs? This is a challenge worth taking. This is a partnership worth exploring.

This perhaps is the opportunity of the decade before us. What it needs is to be able to have a quick mechanism like an incubator in Sikkim to leverage the full potential of #StartupIndia.

Welcome to Sikkim, Hon’ble Prime Minister to!

(The author is the sitting MP Lok Sabha, Sikkim and the opinion shared is personal)