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Diversified conglomerate ITC has launched its super app Meta Market for Advanced Agricultural Services (ITCMAARS) to provide agricultural and allied services to farmers on a digital platform.
The app has been launched in seven states with over 40,000 farmers grouped in 200-plus farmer produce organisations (FPOs) under four value chains – wheat, paddy, soya, and chilli. But the ultimate aspiration is to take it to 4,000 FPOs and 10 million farmers and 20 value chains.
The platform, a ‘phygital’ ecosystem provides farmers with AI/ML driven value-added personalised and hyperlocal crop advisories, such as customised ‘Crop Calendar’ for scientific planning of crop cycles, ‘Crop Doctor’ for real-time resolution of crop infestation, access to inputs, market linkages, real-time soil testing, precision farming, among others.
As part of an aggregator model, ITC makes available allied services like pre-approved loans through partners. Over time, it will also provide insurance, among other digitally-enabled rural services.
“There are about 140 million farmers in India with fragmented land holdings and we need to bring them together to be able to make an impact at scale. The government’s intervention or the policies to promote FPOs is truly far-sighted and that’s what we are leveraging,” ITC Chairman and Managing Director Sanjiv Puri said at a press conference.
It’s a win-win solution for farmers and ITC, which procures 4 million tonnes of grains every year and will be scaling it over time. “We intend to be a willing buyer,” said Puri.
He, however, added: “For me, ITCMAARS will be a success when it makes a meaningful contribution to multiplying farmer incomes and making India’s agri value chains competitive,” Puri said.
The ITC stock on Thursday hit a new 52-week high at Rs 302.20 on the BSE and finally closed at Rs 299.50.
Puri said demand was robust at a larger industry level as far as agriculture, hotels and paperboards, and packaging are concerned.
But for the non-cigarettes FMCG business, there were concerns arising out of inflation. He, however, said although input costs had gone up, realisations were better. “Net-net, the sense is, there will be some positive. That should work well and we should see the impact in the later part of the year,” he said.
Puri said commodity prices at this point in time had cooled off but it would be difficult to predict because multiple factors were at play.
“Alternate structure” for hotels
ITC has been exploring an “alternate structure” for hotels for a while but it was held back due to the Covid pandemic and its impact on the hospitality industry.
“We have reiterated in the annual report and in the investor meet that we will take it forward in line with industry recovery dynamics and all the indications are now that the industry is on a positive trajectory. It’s very much on the table,” Puri said.
On the form of alternate structure, he said certain options were on the table and the board would discuss it once it decides to go ahead in consultation with experts.
As part of its cost-takeout plan, ITC is in the process of exiting its lifestyle retailing business. “We sold off the John Players brand. As far as Wills is concerned, we are liquidating some old inventory that is there in a few stores. There are no further plans beyond it,” Puri said.
ITC entered the lifestyle retailing business with the Wills Sport range in 2000. In 2019, it sold the John Players brand to Reliance Retail and also renamed Wills Lifestyle to WLS.
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First Published: Thu, July 21 2022. 20:18 IST