Be it reducing the use of fertilisers or using a nano nutrient to boost crop production, these startups are innovating to resolve problems faced by farmers.
The agriculture sector is the backbone of India’s economy, but agrarian distress continues to haunt farmers across the country. Favourable government policies notwithstanding, farmers also need innovative solutions to age-old problems.
A two-day event, Innovate 2 Cultivate, was held in Coimbatore by Marico Innovation Foundation on December 4 and 5. As many as 23 entrepreneurs (present out of 37 cohort members) from across the country were present at the event, which focussed on startups bringing agri-innovations to scale.
Even as the convergence of mobile networks, broadband internet, cloud platforms, IoT, AI and open data is transforming agriculture in India, we focus on five startups that are innovating to address farmers’ issues.
Hyderabad-based Distinct Horizons has developed a machine that helps in reducing excess use of fertilisers by 30-40 percent. The machine, which uses the Urea Deep Placement (UDP) technique, claims to have increased productivity by 25 percent for over 450+ farmers.
The UDP machine applicator is not directly sold to farmers; it is expensive - priced at Rs 1.5 lakhs - and is rented out. Ayush Nigam, Co-founder of Distinct Horizons, says,
We rent it for between Rs 800 and Rs 1,500 per acre, and mostly approach influential farmers of the region so others would also trust and use it.
Ayush explains that fertilisers mostly end up on weeds; only a fraction of the fertiliser is applied for the benefit of the plants. “With our machine, the fertilisers are channelled directly to the roots of the plants, minimising use.”
The machine was launched in 2015 and has helped farmers across villages in Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh till now.
Bengaluru-based Impeccable Innovations uses a “nano nutrient” to enhance the efficiency of photosynthesis and boost crop production. Founder Arnab Guha says, the nano nutrient - Nualgi - comprises 12 nutrients and is applied to leaves to boost the photosynthesis process.
The product has nutrients such as iron, manganese, molybdenum, boron, cobalt, and zinc to name a few. All these nutrients disperse into nano form and can be easily absorbed by the stomata due to their small size. This package of nutrients, when delivered to chlorophyll, boosts photosynthesis.
Nualgi has been developed by Bengaluru-based Nualgi Nanobiotech, and Impeccable Innovations is the technical channel marketing partner. According to Arnab, it leads to 10-15 percent improvement in yield in cases of crops like wheat and rice, and 30 percent improvement in mustard.
The nano nutrient also helps reduce farmers’ spending as it minimises the need of any fertilisers. Arnab says a farmer who used to spend Rs 10,000 on inputs can save up to Rs 3,000. The product has benefited 1,000 farmers in rural areas of Karnataka so far.
This Mumbai-based startup offers an AI-based vision system to grade and sort fruits and vegetables based on size, colour, shape and surface quality. Founded by Khsitij Thakur and Vinayak Ghosale with Nikhil Pandey as a team member, the startup aims to provide uniform and continuous quality checks for every product in real-time.
Kshitij Thakur, Chief Operating Officer of Occipital Tech, says,
We aim to bring current costs down from the present price. With our technology, the accuracy is 98 percent, and it takes one-fifth of the time required in the manual process used now.
When asked on the market status, Kshitij explains, “We started by interviewing over 20 agribusinesses including exporters, FPOs and food processing companies to identify the problem statement of grading and sorting in fruits and vegetables.”
Gujarat-based Vise Organic aims to reduce chemical consumption in the agricultural sector to ensure a greener future. Most farmers desist from adopting organic farming techniques due to the initial costs involved. Vise Organic, founded by Prakash Vaghasiya in 2017, offers a range of products that can help reduce costs for farmers. The product lineup includes pesticides, growth promoters, and fertilisers.
It also offers MyLab, an innovative product that allows low-cost production of bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides by farmers.
With the help of the MyLab machine, a farmer can also start his own business in providing low-cost biofertilisers and sell them for Rs 80 per litre. If a famer buys biofertiliser from the market, it costs around Rs 300 per litre, and can be used on an acre of land. The MyLab kit lets you produce it at Rs 50 per litre and can be used over 10 acres.
To shift from agrochemical-based farming, farmers need a potential alternative that can enhance overall productivity at a minimal cost. Pune-based Vasumitra develops agriculture inputs suitable for organic agriculture.
Bhushan Jambhelkar, CEO of Vasumitra, says,
We are helping farmers in sustainable organic farming and have reduced cultivation costs by 15-20 percent. Also, there has been an improvement in yield and product quality, and we can help weed out over 60-70 percent of agro-chemicals used by the farmers.
In six years, Vasumitra claims to have successfully impacted 21,000 acres of land spread across 16 districts in three states. With the help of its 28 products across four categories, including Carbon-Rich Fertilisers, Physiological Triggers, Crop Protection, and Ionic Fertilisers, farmers find it convenient and cost-effective to adopt organic agriculture.