- India has housed more than 450 start-ups with an annual growth rate of 25% year-on-year, according to a NASSCOM report.
- Agricx’s first of its kind mobile based AI product “Procure+” leverages machine learning for real-time quality inspection of Agri produce & delivers actionable insight to stakeholders remotely.
- Fasal, through its AI-controlled IoT-SaaS platform, helps farmers catch continuous information on developing conditions from on-farm sensors and conveys farm explicit, crop-explicit noteworthy warnings to farmers through mobile.
Agriculture is one of the mainstream sectors of the economy as 58% of the country’s population is dependent on it for livelihood.
As the pandemic disrupted traditional supply chains across the world, Agri-tech start-ups have come to the rescue of the agriculture sector, which appears to be a bright spot amid the growing losses in manufacturing and job cuts in services.
Numerous Agri-tech start-ups are helping farmers connect with purchasers, automate supply chains, and build a layer of information investigation to drive proficiency using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of things (IoT).
India has housed more than 450 start-ups with an annual growth rate of 25% year-on-year, according to a NASSCOM report. The sector has witnessed significant tailwinds as a number of start-ups have managed to raise funding despite the headwinds from COVID.
Agricx Lab, Fasal and Farm2Fam
AgricxLab is a Thane-based online B2B platform founded by Ritesh Dhoot and Saurabh Kumar for connecting cold storage owners with bulk buyers of Agri-products. Founded in 2018, it uses smartphone imaging to assess the quality of Agri-produce through its mobile app.
Agricx’s first of its kind mobile based AI product “Procure+” leverages machine learning for real-time quality inspection of Agri produce & delivers actionable insight to stakeholders remotely.
The problem with the food industry is finding the right buyer/seller, ensuring efficient procurement, and providing objective feedback across the supply chain. All this requires an efficient manual quality inspection and precise data for intelligent analysis and real traceability.
However, manual inspection and its associated inefficiencies result in $200 billion worth of value loss across the global supply chain. Agricx seems to solve this problem.
With its patent-pending SaaS stack, it helps enterprises and farmers digitise quality assessment at affordable prices. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) it has converted a regular smartphone into an advanced quality assessment tool. With a miniature spectrometer & hypercube processing in the pipeline, Agricx aims to disrupt the space and become the standard for quality assessment.
As for Farm2Fam, it is a Mumbai- based startup founded in January 2019 by Keya Salot which grows microgreens – free from pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals and delivers them straight to the customer’s doorstep. The motive of Farm2Fam is to make people aware about the healing of the human body with natural nutrition. It plans to accomplish the aim through the use of technology in combination with traditional Indian agricultural methods to grow niche nutritional products.
“Currently, we grow and deliver microgreens regularly to over 50 hotels and restaurants in Mumbai in addition to several hundred end-consumers. In addition, we have already set up our farm for growing berries. In the near future, we will be growing locally several fruits and vegetables which are currently being imported,” said Salot to The Blue Circle.
Another start-up, Fasal, through its AI-controlled IoT-SaaS platform, helps farmers catch continuous information on developing conditions from on-farm sensors and conveys farm-explicit, crop-explicit noteworthy warnings to farmers on mobile in vernacular languages. Founded by Ananda Verma and Shailendra Tiwari in 2018, it’s sensors measure variables such as micro-climate, soil, and crop conditions which are followed by the use of machine learning in transforming the farm-level predictions to reduce costs by optimizing crop protection, irrigation, and crop nutrition.
“We have built a technology to improve yield, decrease cost, reduce wastage, and save natural resources. Our technology is proven and farmers across various states of India are using and benefiting from it. And this is just a start of Agriculture revolution 4.0 which we vision to build where farming goes on auto-pilot,” shared Verma with TBC.
Why Start-ups in Agriculture
Agriculture, though a very important profession, is still one of the least paid sectors in India. This has forced the next generation of farmers to foray into areas other than farming.
“We founded Farm2Fam India with a vision to produce high quality and premium agricultural products locally to ensure that the farmers can get better returns in lieu of their hard work and the consumers can benefit from a better quality product,” shared Salot.
She shared some of the challenges including high capital investment in planned agriculture, the mind-set of paying a lesser price for, and thereby discouraging locally grown produce and so on.
Agricx was founded as an aggregator and supplier of farm produce to B2B vendors. One of the significant friction points that the founders faced was quality disputes with the buyer. The trade buyers generally use the disagreement as negotiating tools to reduce the price.
“We wanted to solve the problem by automating the quality assessment. And when we dwelled deeper, we understood the problem to be much bigger and afflicting the food supply chain across the world,” said Saurabh Kumar.
However, for Verma, the motives and situations were different. Coming from a farming family in U.P, he had seen the struggle and losses farmers undergo if the crop fails.
“Everyday farmers struggle to make decisions because of lack of right information and though we as a country became very advanced in Information Technology, we never looked at Farming as a domain of impact of such advancement,” said Verma.
So, after completing his engineering and gaining experience working with global companies in domains like IoT and AI, he realised the gap in information technology and decided to step into it himself and address it.
Role of Start-ups in Agriculture
In order to progress, agriculture needs to be viewed with a fresh lens. With global synergies and the advance of technology, Indian agriculture needs reforms and start-ups will play a key role in the revamp process.
Similar to other sectors, start-ups are agile and help in solving problems which might be too small or too complex for any large enterprise to take up. With multiple start-ups trying to solve the problem using different approaches is like having multiple teams in a large organisation working on the same problem. Hence, the probability of problem-solving rises as compared with any other traditional method.
In the last few decades agriculture has seen innovation largely around inputs like seeds, fertilisers and on Machinery like Advance sprayers, drip technology, and so on.
“It is the time now to impact agriculture with advancement of Information Technology. Traditional agriculture companies on input and machinery are slow in innovating on new trends and hence start-ups play a huge role here,” shared Verma with TBC.
Other Agri-Tech Start-ups Changing the Face of Agriculture
Another start-up named QZense, based out of Bangalore is building solutions for quick and accurate grading of fresh foods by running insights on ripeness, spoilage through IoT to assist farmers in demanding higher prices from the same produce.
Similarly, DeHaat is offering one-stop solutions to farmers in Bihar, UP, Odisha, and Jharkhand on how to grow crops and the place to sell those crops in an accessible and affordable way.
Gurugram-based Bijak is helping rural commodity traders and buyers to make a transition to digital commerce, while greenhouse Agri-tech platform Clover is making sure that greenhouse farmers avoid spoilage of crops while delivering fresh vegetables to Kirana shops in and around the cities.
The COVID had already hampered fresh-produce supply chains, causing huge volatility in the market. Moreover, consumers faced limited choices with serious concerns about the origin of produce and its handling until it reaches their doorstep. The supply chain of Clover has added a lot of these farmers into its network for serving the consumer demand in a traceable, hygienic manner across Bangalore and Hyderabad. The start-up is also helping transition large-scale floriculture farmers, who’ve seen revenues plummet, to horticulture in a sustainable manner.
Both Clover and Bijak have received funding even during the COVID crisis. Clover has raised ₹7 crores in May and in April, and Bijak and DeHaat raised $12 million in series A funding round.
For poultry, a start-up called Eggoz has stepped up. It provides integration services to egg farmers across north India on nutritional engineering and technology to produce eggs. It has raised Rs 2.5 crore as part of its seed funding for use in growth and expansion plans.
Indian agriculture is a massive industry with over $350 billion worth and 100 million farmers, small and independent. The industry is set to witness a massive transformation as farmers get organised coupled with increasing use of smartphones.
(Edited by Anu Choudary)
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