First of its kind 'AgHub' model in TS: The Agri Innovation Hub in Telangana

First of its kind AgHub model in TS: The Agri Innovation Hub in Telangana

The vision of AgHub is to emerge as a world- class centre that promotes innovations and entrepreneurship in agri-food systems through mentoring, piloting, and facilitating access to market, research, and investment. As part of this, the incubator at PJTSAU has been funded by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and has been functioning since October 2020

Agriculture is a way of life and tradition that has shaped the culture and economic life of people of Telangana and continues to be the focal point, to all the strategies for planned socio-economic development of the Telangana state. The sector had undergone sea change in the last century responding to everchanging technological advancements as well as the expansion of the global market. This unorganized sector was totally neglected due to poor agricultural reforms in the past, which led agriculture into a crisis. After formation of Telangana state, the situation bettered and improved marvelously with Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao taking special interest.

Until four-five decades ago, when every village in our country functioned as a Republic in itself, agriculture was not considered as a mere profitable vocation. It was then more a profession, a passion, a way of life and a serving mechanism. With majority of the population dependent directly or indirectly on agriculture, the entire village economy flourished and thrived on a convenient barter system.Each village produced mainly for its needs and nobody gave a thought for any surplus production. Every farmer, big and small, had some sort of a storage mechanism that included storage of seeds for the next year. There was no concept of buying seeds. Gradually with the advent of market-based economy, agriculture produce started moving out of the villages, to the nearby markets. Problems to farmers to farmers commenced with middlemen, traders and agents entering the system. This gave rise to commercialization and the producer of an agriculture product became dependent on outside market even for his needs. After formation of Telangana under the dynamic leadership of KCR the state government has made several attempts to bring in a much desirable change in the farm sector.

The pro-farmer and pro-agriculture schemes like Rythu Bandhu, Rythu Bhima, Rythu Vedikas, Rythu Bandhu Samithis, 24-hour free power supply, increased irrigation facilities through projects, and host of other schemes were initiated by KCR government. Area of irrigation increased multifold as well as huge increase in production. Alternate cropping pattern further helped the farmer. All this helped farmer to double and triple their incomes. Thus emergedthe Telangana model.

As part of several review meetings on agriculture connected issues, in one meeting held during third week of August 2015, about 14 months after KCR sworn in as CM, he underscored the importance of Professor Jayashankar Telangana Agriculture University (PJTSAU). He said that the University should play a vital role in evolving a strategy to bring back the past glory of agriculture in Telangana by strengthening research activity in the university. Every bit of land in the state has to be subjected to soil testing and the details are to be computerized. Different places in Telangana have to be divided in to particular crop coloniesfelt CM KCR.

Apart from this, the CM suggested that, the agricultural university should also undertake extensive research on mechanization aspects. Students of the university should be given free hand in doing research. They should be on the move to interact with farmer on go forward basis. The university should have a clear idea of soil, technique, crops and others available in each and every mandal of the state. Probably a control room kind of campaign center should be set up in each mandal that addresses the problems of the farmers and giving quick solution to make things easy.

CM KCR further said then that, there was a time when the university played a crucial role in farming. The kind of research, training camps and many were widely done in the university. Farmers and officers were given special training to know about the latest methods in agriculture. Farmers in batches used to go to Agricultural University to learn about the advanced methods of farming. But over the period of time, in the united AP, this practice has been ignored and barely any farmer reached University to learn the new techniques in agriculture. CM further desired that, it is also the responsibility of Agriculture University to restore the faith in farmers and bring back the past glory.

Against this background and realising the importance of research and innovation in university and as an important and vital step, aiming at making new frontiers in the Food and Agribusiness Innovation landscape in Telangana, four years ago, a first of its kind initiative of Agri Innovation Hub was conceived by PJTSAU. It has taken an ideal shape now. The vision of AgHub is to emerge as a world- class centre that promotes innovations and entrepreneurship in agri-food systems through mentoring, piloting, and facilitating access to market, research, and investment. As part of this, the incubator has been funded by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and has been functioning since October 2020.

AgHub is structured in Hub and Spoke modelof the Agri Innovation Centre, where the Innovation Hub is housed in the PJTSAU campus at Hyderabad and caters to the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship among the Agri Tech start-ups and student entrepreneurs. The initiatives of the Hub among others include, four specially designed programmes namely: Incubation Program, Agri Tech Innovation Pilots (AIP), Co-Innovation and Enterprise Acceleration Program (EAP). As part of Incubation Program, start-up entrepreneurs who are venturing with ideas are offered product development support, customized scientific, business mentoring, advisory on regulatory issues, go to market assistance and fund-raising assistance. Agri Tech Innovation Pilots,the first of its kind program, validates the start-up technology through a soft-landing platform at real farm situation. Agri Tech start-ups can deploy their solutions on ground and avail scientific validation. The Co-Innovation, also the first of its kind program, offers early and growth stage start-ups to collaborate and co-create and co-develop technology offering jointly between a start-up team and agricultural scientists. Enterprise Acceleration Program is a distinct platform for the acceleration of growth stage enterprises and Small and Medium Enterprises in Agribusiness. Currently 40+ Food and Agritech start-upsare being nurtured for the benefit of farming community in Telangana and India.

Inaccordance with the National Educational Policy Agri Hub is building student entrepreneurship for young agricultural graduates in PJTSAU to inculcate the culture of innovation. This is probably the first ever program in any agricultural university in India with a three-month curriculum through 'Design Thinking' approaches and modules on entrepreneurship and translational research. Post 'Design Thinking Program' the pool of student design thinkers builds their ideas under the Ideation Platform named 'Idea Sprout'. Till date 5 Design Thinking Programs, 1500+ Design Thinkers Pool and 400+ Ideas have been built through student innovator pool.

The Rural Innovation Spokes across the State, upcoming in Jagtial, Warangal and Tandoor would cater to the promotion of entrepreneurship and agribusinesses among rural youth, women, farmers, Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) and Grass roots Innovators. As a first initiative, series of awareness programs to promote rural entrepreneurship among rural youth, women, grassroots innovators, farmers and FPOs in Telangana are currently being undertaken. Agri Innovation Hub is determined to move fast to bring a new paradigm shift in Agricultural research, extension, and education through its wide network and vibrant, converging platform. It seeks to build a two-way bridge between urban-to-rural and rural-to-urban entrepreneurial pathways.

On hearing the great work that is being taken up in PJTSAU, a US-based researcher and Director Corporate Development at Rain Oncology, California, Ranga Yarlagadda during his recent trip to Hyderabad visited the university and had a 'deep and engaging discussion' with CEO, AgHub Vijay Nadiminti. His instant impression was that the vision of AgHub was inspiring and game changer in the ecosystem. Sri Ranga had a special praise for the AgHub's commitment to help the entire ecosystem of start-up founders, student entrepreneurs, rural entrepreneurs, grass root innovators, farmers, agribusiness ecosystem through personalized attention and handholding. He said that having been exposed to other incubators in Silicon Valley and the USA, he can truly say that what the Telangana government is building here is truly world-class! He was all praise for CM KCR, Principal Secretary Agriculture and, VC-PJTSAU and Chairman of AgHubMRaghu Nandan Rao, Director of AgHubDrVPraveen Rao, and MD Agri Hub Dr R Kalpana Sastry.

(Writer is CPRO to Chief Minister, Telangana).

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