Technologies developed in the government-funded farm research institutions and farm universities were, in the past, deemed to be meant only for use by the farmers free of cost and not for their commercialisation. As a result, many useful inventions that needed industrial interventions to make them utilisable by the farmers and other end-users remained confined to the laboratories and research journals. However, the outlook has since changed thanks to the realisation that commercialisation of new high-end technologies is vital to put them to gainful use for lifting productivity and profitability of farming and its related ventures. Agricultural research organisations, consequently, have begun to reach out to prospective investors for setting up business enterprises based on their technologies. This provides a win-win platform for all players in the backward and forward value chain. The technology developers get fiscal incentives and revenue for their research work, the entrepreneurs get lucrative business opportunities, and the farmers and other end-users benefit from the technology-driven enhanced production, reduced costs and higher net returns.
The new mode of technology diffusion through commercial route was on display in Delhi last week at the "Agri-Tech Investors Meet 2013" organised under the National Agricultural Innovation project (NAIP) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). This initiative, first of its kind, brought the inventors of ready-to-commercialise technologies into direct contact with the prospective entrepreneurs. A good deal of preparatory work had, of course, preceded this meet to shortlist about 60 business-worthy technologies for showcasing at the meet and to seek out potential entrepreneurs for up-scaling, incubation and commercial production of the new products for wider use.
The response from the entrepreneurs was truly overwhelming. Nearly 80 companies, big and small, including several start-ups, inked memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with the technology developers to get licences for the commercial exploitation of the technologies, most of which are either already patented or are awaiting grant of patents. "More requests from the aspiring entrepreneurs are coming even after the meet, seeking licences for different technologies," says NAIP national coordinator P S Pandey. The technology developers expect to collect revenue of nearly Rs 4.8 crores by way of licence fee, royalty and other charges. This amount will be shared between the technology inventors (scientists), research centres (ICAR institutes and state agricultural universities) and the ICAR.
Significantly, this initiative is unlikely to end with the recent roadshow. To ensure steady flow of new technologies from labs to farms through commercial channels even in future, the ICAR intends to make such events a regular affair. Beside, about 22 business planning and development units have been set up in different parts of the country which will engage with agro-companies and other business houses and serve as conduits between them and the technology inventors. Each of these business promotion units has at least one qualified business development professional, educated at a reputed management institute, on their staff. Prior to this meet, only about 70-odd technologies could be passed on to the private entrepreneurs since the launch of the NAIP in 2006 with funding support from the Union government and the World Bank.
Two noteworthy points emerged from this agri-tech meet. First, the Indian farm research centres are now churning out not only high-yielding crop varieties but also products and processes based on state-of-the-art technologies like biotechnology and nanotechnology. And second, the agro-industrialists are now prepared to take up such sophisticated technologies for commercial exploitation. This is borne out by the numerous MoUs singed for the technologies for making products like "nano-cellulose" from cotton linters (fine, silky fibres sticking to cotton seeds after ginning) and nano-fertilisers for delivering nutrients to crop plants in nano quantities to save on costs and ensure better yields. There were also several takers for technologies for the production of livestock vaccines, feed mixtures and kits for easy detection of milk adulteration with hazardous substances such as detergents. Also in demand were other technologies for sectors like food technology, horticulture, veterinary, agri-engineering, agri-inputs, fisheries, textiles, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. This can be viewed as a welcome sign of growing hunger for new technology among both the agri-industries and those engaged in farming and its allied enterprises.