Thursday, February 2

Several entrepreneurs dream of digitizing Pakistan’s agricultural sector

A group of entrepreneurs seeks to expand the use of the Internet on farms in Pakistan to help farmers plan their crops and have a better distribution of products.

In “Chak Twenty-six SP”, “Village 26”, located in the center of the Punjab province, the country’s agricultural heartland, calling by phone is somewhat difficult, however, since last October farmers have access to the internet .

Until then, “the most modern machine we had was the tractor,” explains Aamer Hayat Bhandara, a farmer, local elected official and one of the promoters of the “Digital Dera” project, or digital access area, to AFP.

Agriculture is the great pillar of the Pakistani economy, accounting for nearly 20% of its GDP and 40% of its workforce.

But the production is artisanal and the country lags behind other competitors.

Cows and donkeys rest next to the muddy access road to the house, connected to the network of the nearest town thanks to a satellite dish installed on the roof.

Six farmers come to discover the computers and tablets, which allow access to weather forecasts -more accurate than those provided by television-, as well as market prices, forecasts for the sector and agricultural techniques.

“I had never seen a tablet before,” confesses Munir Ahmed, 45, who grows corn, potatoes and wheat.

“Before, we relied almost exclusively on the experience of our ancestors or our own, but they were not very precise,” admits Amjad Nasir, another farmer, who hopes that this project “will bring a greater bonanza.”

And this is not the only innovation brought by Bhandara: just a few minutes away by car, on the wall of a house, a small new dashboard contrasts with the old water pump.

Now, it is enough to have a tablet to control the irrigation of most of the 100 hectares that he cultivates. Of course, unless one of the multiple surprise power outages interferes.

Bhandara hopes others will access the technology to “reduce water consumption and labor needs.”

This farmer already envisions the next steps: sensors to measure soil moisture, for example.

“This data is essential to make better decisions,” he says. “Digitalizing agriculture (…) and the rural population is the only way to prosper”, although for this “government support is necessary”.

Before dawn in Lahore, some 150 km to the north, dozens of men load bags of fruit and vegetables on motorcycles adapted for cargo at a warehouse in Tazah, an intermediary between farmers and traders.

After four months in operation, this company has raised 6.5 million dollars (5.7 million euros) and daily distributes one hundred tons of products among merchants, who in turn place their orders through a mobile application.

“Before, merchants had to get up between 05:00 and 05:30 in the morning to be able to buy wholesale products at the daily price, and then take care of transporting them,” says Inam Ulhaq, manager of this company for the region.

In the past, fruits and vegetables often rotted due to long and poorly organized transportation, but Tazah is making “the entire supply chain more efficient,” says his partner, Mohsin Zaka.

In addition to Lahore, Tazah is already operating in Karachi, the country’s largest city, and is preparing to land in the capital, Islamabad.

Currently, the company is seeking to raise funds for 20 million dollars, its co-founder tells AFP, at a time when investments flow to Pakistani entrepreneurs.

These investments exceeded $310 million last year, five times more than in 2020 and more than the previous six years combined, according to various reports.

The markets to invest risk capital, such as India or Indonesia, “are saturated,” explains the former director of Careem, a local VTC application bought by Uber in 2020.

Currently, Pakistan, the fifth most populous country in the world, “draws attention” and agriculture is a “sector that is still untapped from a technological point of view.”