How this 20-year-old’s startup helps farmers deal with water scarcity in drought-ridden Rajasthan
Narayan Lal Gurjar grew up witnessing farmers dealing with widespread water scarcity. When he was just 17, he started on a polymer prototype that absorbs and retains water.
At a Glance
Startup: Eco-Friendly Water Retention Polymer
Founders: Narayan Lal Gurjar
Year it was founded: 2014
Where is it based: Udaipur
The problem it solves: Helps tackle water scarcity
Funding raised: Bootstrapped
Narayan Lal Gurjar, hailing from a small village in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan, has seen farmers grapple with water scarcity all his life. The crisis escalated to such an extent that there was a decline in crop production, and 30 percent of the crops wilted, particularly in 2013 and 2015. Narayan wanted to do something about this, and ensure crops received a regular supply of water, despite the insufficient rainfall in the desert region.
Therefore, in 2014, he started Eco-Friendly Water Retention Polymer with an aim to solve the water scarcity crisis for farmers. Initially bootstrapped with funds from his family and friends, this Udaipur-based startup makes a super absorbent polymer designed to absorb water in the soil, retain it for a long time, and supply it to the crops as required. The product is natural, and is made to preserve the integrity of the soil.
“We made the product out of bio-wastes that do not only prevent soil and water pollution, but also give high nutrition to the plants after slowly disintegrating in the soil. What we do is maximum production with minimum use of water and fertilisers,” says Narayan.
Narayan, who naturally veered towards science in high school, started working on this project when his father asked him to think up a solution for the water problem in the area. In Class XII, he studied about polymers and, finally, made a prototype that he tested in his family’s fields.
“As I belong to a village and family that depend mostly on agriculture, I tested it with my farms and the neighbouring farms. The farmers of my village were my first set of customers. It was not tough to make them agree to use this product in their fields. Also, I sold it at a reasonable price and was happy to receive positive feedback,” the 20-year-old says.
The Eco-Friendly Water Retention Polymer is made from natural bio-waste extracts that have water-absorption properties, making it ideal for use in such water-scarce areas.
Narayan explains it takes a month to process the raw material into the final product. Though it is a long process, his team has figured out a way to do it keeping costs low.
“We charge an average of Rs 120 per kg for nurseries and other areas that need water management. This rate includes processing, transport, and taxes. For farmers, we will sell it at an average of Rs 100 per kg,” Narayan notes. The startup is supplying its product to nurseries, farmers, vertical agriculturists and horticulturists near Udaipur and Rajsamand.
Narayan, who is the CEO of the startup, is currently studying at College of Technology and Engineering, Udaipur, where he met the other two members in the team. A team of five now deals with different aspects of the business such as sales, marketing, product and technical assistance. It operates out of small rooms it has hired, and is looking to expand because of the increased demand for the product. Narayan’s college is supporting and funding his company’s plans to set up a factory soon. It also aims to expand its customer base by contacting retailers and online platforms for nurseries in the next one year.
At the Global Rajasthan Agritech Meet (GRAM), held in Udaipur in 2017, the startup received 1,500 pre-booking enquiries for its product. According to Narayan, its current net profit is estimated at Rs 30 lakh to Rs 40 lakh.
Seeing value in the product, the Rajasthan government has invested Rs 1 crore in the startup, which the company wants to use to set up machinery for mass production. It is also incubated by iStart Rajasthan, the State government’s initiative to foster, support and promote startups by providing space, and access to mentorship and investments. “The iStart initiative is also helping us to scale up at a better pace. It is providing workspace and facilities for building up the business,” says Narayan.
It is, understandably, a challenge for the college students to balance their course load as well their startup work, but Narayan’s college has been helping the team to help it focus and work on the offering.
“Our college has provided us facilities such as startup incubation centres at our college. As students, we faced the challenges of insufficient funds for scaling the project and lack of marketing experience. We sometimes have to postpone our project tests during exam time, which delays things a bit,” adds Narayan.
The rise of agriculture startups
In India, there are over 600 million farmers and a majority of them live in 266 such as Saurashtra, Kutch regions in Gujarat, Mirzapur plateau, Palamu regions in Uttar Pradesh, Purulia district of West Bengal, Kalahandi region of Odisha, among others. Drought has often led to farmer suicides, mostly because of the huge debt.
Eco-Friendly Water Retention Polymer brings value to the table and, if scaled, would help many farmers mitigate their water scarcity woes. Agritech companies like Chemtex, Acuro use similar concepts but using hydrogel technology.
According to Venture Intelligence, there have been 41 deals worth $96 million from 2014 to date in the agri-tech space. In 2014, barely $6 million was invested in this space; in 2017, that number went up to $34 million. These startups brings innovative ways to help farmers in areas like storage, logistics and distribution, quality seed procurement, increased production etc.
On its future plans, Narayan notes that by 2020, the startup plans to tap the northwestern Indian region--where water scarcity is harsh--and expects to generate a revenue of Rs 2 crore.
(This startup stood in third place at the Startup Fest Pitches held at Bikaner Digifest, where YourStory was part of the jury.)