Industries in Depth

Industry government collaboration on agritech can empower global agriculture

A close up ground view of crops: Smallholder farmers produce one-third of the world’s food but face challenges they can't solve alone.

Smallholder farmers produce one-third of the world’s food but face challenges they can't solve alone. Image: Unsplash/Steven Weeks

Abhay Pareek
Lead, Fourth Industrial Revolution for Agriculture, World Economic Forum, India
Drishti Kumar
Early Career Programme, AI for Agricultural Innovation, World Economic Forum
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Food Insecurity

  • Globally, more than 500 million smallholder farmers face challenges such as lack of financial and agricultural resources, unfair wages and market access.
  • Government, businesses, innovators, civil society and farmers cannot work in silos to improve agricultural productivity and industry-government platforms are crucial for greater impact of digital technologies.
  • Setting up a collaboration platform, working group and steering group can help create, sustain and scale industry-government engagement.

Agriculture is a vital sector that will feed a projected global population of 9.5 billion by 2050. Smallholder farmers produce more than 70% of the world’s food. Globally, there are approximately 570 million smallholder farmers, who own less than two hectares of land. However, smallholders in most developing countries face challenges such as access to finance and insurance, unfair wages, access to agricultural resources and lack of market access.

In this context, improving the productivity, yield and nutritional content of food produced by smallholder farmers is critical. Agritech, empowered by artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things and drones has the potential to deliver a significant impact across the agriculture sector.

Emerging technologies can make agriculture more agile, data-driven, efficient and focus on farmers’ well-being and income. While acknowledging the potential agritech holds, there is a need for a systematic and collaborative approach.

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The significance of industry-government collaboration

The agriculture sector is a complex ecosystem with multiple stakeholders, including government, businesses, innovators, civil society and farmers. With the farmer at the core, each stakeholder is critical to ensuring the ecosystem works effectively e.g. to pick appropriate inputs, farmers need trustworthy advice, access to input sellers, resources to buy it and at the macro level, government policy on inputs, to safeguard farmers while promoting business.

For a farmer to be aware of agritech, adopt it and actively use it, a similar ecosystem needs to be created.

Considering agritech is still a greenfield sector and rapidly presenting new solutions, the challenge now is creating an industry-government ecosystem where all the stakeholders share a common vision for agritech and collaborate in a transparent and outcome-based framework.

In this context, Forum’s AI for agricultural innovation initiative has been actively employing various approaches to create a common vision of tech for food security and subsequently, enhance industry-government collaboration to achieve the vision.

Ensuring effective industry-government engagement

As the proposed agritech ecosystem is a systemic change, it would require deliberation and discussions at the highest levels of the private and public sectors to ensure the vision is shared and collaboratively driven. Engagement of senior leaderships and their strategic guidance will help garner commitments of resources and action, by an executive layer of the stakeholders.

The following approaches can enhance efforts towards industry-government engagement:

1. Establish a collaboration platform

This platform, potentially a council or steering committee, will include top leaders from both industry and government, such as chief executive officers, chief technology officers and heads of agriculture departments.

Its aim is to address challenges in agriculture through discussions on the sector, the role of agritech and collaborative efforts to expand agritech solutions. It will set the vision and strategy, guide action plans, and rely on members’ expertise for strategic direction to achieve specific goals and outcomes.

Members will determine meeting frequencies. Working and steering groups can be formed within this collaborative framework to implement strategies effectively.

A surface level image of a young African Xhosa Male in his greenhouse vegetable garden, sits on his haunches while referencing information on his tablet.
A young African Xhosa Male in his greenhouse vegetable garden references information on his tablet. Image: Getty Images

2. Create working groups

Form working groups with experts on specific topics such as supply chain optimization or digital infrastructure to address agricultural challenges and opportunity areas through industry-government collaboration. Here are some suggestions for establishing a working group for your initiative.

  • Members: Select six to eight members, including a working group lead, encompassing representatives from industry, academia and government.
  • Define tenure: Tenure is optimally six months with room for two to three-month extensions.
  • Regular engagement: Weekly or bi-weekly meetings can encourage active engagement.
  • Transparent progress: Sync the working group with overall objectives by tracking progress and sharing updates within the collaboration platform meetings.
  • Concrete outcome: After the group’s tenure is complete, present a thorough report or action plan to the platform members for approval and implementation.

3. Create a steering group

The steering group, acting as the operational branch, will implement strategic directions from the platform into concrete actions. This group is crucial for maintaining engagement with otherwise busy senior officials and will consist of stakeholders such as department heads, senior managers and deputy directors.

They’ll collaborate on action plans through roundtables, allowing industry partners to showcase agri-tech solutions and discuss scaling efforts in specific regions. These sessions also clarify the expectations and contributions of each member.

Case study

A notable example of industry-government collaboration in scaling "fourth industrial revolution" technologies in agriculture, facilitated by the Forum, is the establishment of the Digital Agriculture Export Promotion platform. The platform’s objective is to offer strategy to the Uttar Pradesh government on scaling agritech to increase Uttar Pradesh’s role in global food supply chains.

To provide some perspective, Uttar Pradesh is the fourth largest state in India with a population of 238.9 million in 2024. It is also the leading agrarian state, contributing 17% of the country’s food grain production.

The platform brings together 18 private sector partners and state government representatives. As a first milestone, six private sector entities and the state government signed an agreement to collaborate on scaling agritech in Uttar Pradesh.

A food secure future

The challenge of integrating and scaling agritech so that innovation is fostered while farmer’s interests are protected is one for all governments. As the agritech services are poised to grow, it is the opportune time to collaboratively assess its transformation capabilities and keep farmers prepared to test and adopt it.

Establishing collaborative platforms and expert working groups can bring together industry and government to foster dialogue and create, sustain and scale strategies towards shared objectives. Therefore, we should increase our efforts to build collaborative platforms that could unlock the potential of agritech services and pave the way for a more resilient and equitable future for all.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Industries in DepthFood and Water
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