The/Nudge Foundation and Cisco team up to help entrepreneurs increase farmers’ income with innovative solutions

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Employing over 40 percent of the country's workforce and contributing around 20 percent to its GDP, India’s agricultural sector is a key pillar of the country’s economy. However, the magnitude of these figures contrasts the state of most Indian farmers who are often caught in a vicious cycle of low productivity and dwindling incomes.

Over the years, the government and private players have been aggressively exploring ways to support the agriculture sector with technology-driven solutions.

To that end, Cisco Agri Challenge, in partnership with The/Nudge Foundation and Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Govt of India, is a similar initiative to support solutions that can enable small-scale farmers to boost their profits and incomes. As part of the challenge, organisations get a chance to innovate at scale to build progressive solutions and compete for a prize purse of Rs 2 crore.

During the programme, the participating organisations will get access to the ecosystem support to accelerate their learning curve and refine their business model.

With a strong focus on farmer-centric solutions that are accessible to small and marginal farmers, the Cisco Agri Challenge will assess qualifying solutions on the basis of their economic, social and environmental impact along with their potential to scale. The cohort featured 25 impactful organisations that are fuelling change across the agricultural sector.

Here’s a look at the organisations made it to the semi-finalist phase of Cisco Agri Challenge:

  1. Aquaconnect: The Chennai-based organisation is building a pond-to-plate ecosystem to tap into the potential of India's aquaculture resources. The team builds end-to-end solutions for shrimp and fish farmers while leveraging AI and satellite remote sensing tools and fortifying the entire aquaculture value chain. Its solutions include a data-driven farm advisory, an affordable omnichannel marketplace for buyers with doorstep delivery, financing and market linkages.
  2. Arboreum: The lack of easy credit is a bane that's ailing the agricultural sector for decades. Arboreum is working towards offering easy access to finance by building trustworthy networks of lenders, borrowers and supporters while roping in the power of artificial intelligence. Apart from an affordable and inclusive lending framework, Arboreum empowers farmers with a diversified portfolio, a strong repayment mechanism, optimised interest rates and low transaction costs.
  3. Bioprime: Irrigated rice yields in India are projected to decline by 7 percent in 2050 and by 10 percent in 2080 due to climate change, as per a report. Climate change has become a crucial concern for farmers in India who find themselves helpless against erratic weather conditions and the resultant fluctuations in production levels. Pune-based Bioprime is supporting farmers in their fight against climate change by developing next-generation biologicals that utilise biomolecules and target key plant processes. The solution enables plants to survive longer and overcome disastrous crop failures. The biologicals are crop agnostic and can be adopted irrespective of the size of the plot.
  4. Boomitra: Headquartered in California, Boomitra is helping farmers fight climate change with a scalable AI-based technology by not just adapting to its impact, but also optimising their water and nutrient usage. With Boomitra's assistance, farmers also get to earn by generating carbon credits and increasing soil carbon levels. The startup ropes in satellites and AI to measure the volume of carbon, moisture and nutrients in the soil of a farm. With this information, farmers can not only boost their production while using less water and fertiliser, but also measurably increase soil carbon.
  5. DeepFlow Technologies: For many farmers in India, it is the lack of access to technical expertise that keeps them from leveraging innovation. Set up in Kerala, DeepFlow Technologies is bridging this gap with its expertise in deep learning, big data analytics, image processing, IoT and robotics. The startup deploys 'farm managers' with instruments that map the collected data on cloud. The data is processed by data science and recommendation engines to offer inputs to farmers and help them with key decisions related to cost, revenue and productivity.
  6. Dvara E-Dairy Solutions: The organisation is transforming cattle management in India with digitisation to solve the problems faced by small and marginal dairy farmers. Using AI/ML, deep learning and IoT models, Dvara digitally assesses the livestock and offers specific recommendations to the farmers and financial service institutions.
  7. Earth Analytics India: The dependence of agriculture on nature makes the sector and farm incomes vulnerable to erratic weather and natural calamities. Based out of Mumbai, Earth Analytics India develops satellite-based insights for farmers and helps them make better decisions. Its FarmProtect solution is an integrated risk management tool for small-scale farmers which offers free irrigation and pest management advisory. The intelligence is backed by data about soil and weather conditions.
  8. EF Polymer: Around 42 percent of cultivable land in India is affected by droughts. The figure is a stark reminder of how farmers are battling against water scarcity. To solve the problem, EF Polymer Private Limited built an organic hydrogel and pollution-free solution 'Fasal Amrit'. The solution is available in powdered form and the farmers have to just mix it with seeds, soil or the fertiliser. Once mixed, the solution can absorb water and helps the soil retain its moisture. The solution shields farmers against insufficient rain, lack of irrigation and droughts.
  9. EmerTech Innovations: With an operational base in Mumbai, EmerTech is helping strengthen the agricultural value chain with its blockchain-driven platform AgroTrust. It weeds out inefficiencies like lack of information, price intelligence and corruption by offering complete visibility at all stages of the value chain. AgroTrust delivers real-time signals about temperature, stock transfer and updates on food quality, processing/packaging, and transportation.
  10. CultYvate: In India, paddy cultivation often comprises the use of several traditional practices like alternate wet and drying (AWD) for precision irrigation management. As part of the technique, the water level is raised just 5cm above the soil surface and not allowed to go beyond 15 cm below it. However, farmers often find it challenging to locate the re-flooding point. CultYvate's AWD sensor is a low-cost solution that can measure moisture and water levels for optimal irrigation. Powered by IoT and AI, the sensor alerts farmers to irrigate the field when the water level starts depleting beyond the 15-cm mark or when the water level reaches a height of 5cm. The solution can adjust to different soil textures and the device is easy to uninstall and reinstall between seasons.
  11. Fyllo: The Bengaluru-based organisation harnesses real-time farm data with an IoT device and uses it to create personalised advisories for farmers. The advisories can be accessed through an app which is available in vernacular languages. The agronomy device can be installed in farms to collect real-time data, which is then processed by a proprietary cloud-based system and finally made available to farmers through the app.
  12. Greenpod Labs: Despite being the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables globally, India loses about 40 percent of its fresh produce before it reaches the consumer. Greenpod Labs is fixing the problem of food wastage with a sustainable packaging solution that uses natural plant extracts. The solution sports an inbuilt defense mechanism which slows down microbial growth in fruits and vegetables, thereby making them last longer.
  13. Hi7 Agri Biosolutions: Ethylene is a ripening hormone that accounts for around 30 percent post-harvest losses in the agricultural value chain. Hi7 Agri Biosolutions leverages the power of bio-priming to enhance the shelf life of fruits and vegetables and helps farmers in reducing post-harvest losses. The Karnataka-based company’s solution comprises a liquid formulation to be sprayed on the produce, biodegradable paper primed with biomolecules for wrapping and a jute/cotton bag coated with biomolecules to carry the fruits and vegetables.
  14. Jaljeevika Infotech: Most fish farmers in India are unable to scale due to factors like lack of knowledge about suitable aquaculture technologies, better management practices, lack of capital, and low availability of skilled manpower. To address this, Jaljeevika Infotech is building a portable IoT sensor system for water quality management. The data generated can create personalised advisories for farmers, and leverage data analytics for better decision-making systems for various stakeholders. The data harnessed by the IoT sensors can also be used for providing support to farmers, service providers, input suppliers, government departments, credit agencies, and the insurance companies.
  15. Khethworks: Faced with the challenge of meeting the steeply rising need for power, the Indian government aims to achieve 227 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022. In tandem with the nationwide focus on green energy, Khethworks is driving impact by building affordable and reliable solar-powered irrigation systems that enable farmers to farm throughout the year. Its flagship solar pump provides an alternative to farmers who are often dependent on inconsistent monsoon and expensive fuel-based pumping to meet their irrigation needs.
  16. Mo Chashi Bhai: Mo Chashi Bhai is an initiative launched by the Maruti Foods Training Centre (MFTC) and Maruti Foods to promote agricultural incomes and make farming more sustainable in Odisha. Under the project, women working in fields and migrant labourers get access to skilling opportunities and become self-sufficient with the help of a diversified integrated farming system and technology. Members of the Mo Chashi Bhai initiative work with farmers at each step of the agriculture value chain by training them, creating market linkages, introducing agritech tools, mentoring food producing organisations and outsourcing manufacturing of high value processed farm produce, among other tasks.
  17. EcoZen: EcoZen has been driving impact by building a solution to cap post-harvest losses in the agricultural value chain with its solar-powered cold storage solutions. The solution can come handy in situations where the required logistics or storage facilities are not available. It can also be installed at farm gates to precool commodities immediately after they are harvested and store the product. The solution can not only reduce food wastage but also boost farmer incomes.
  18. Reshamandi: Sample this: In 2020, India exported silk products worth over Rs 4 billion, a sharp decline from Rs 14 billion in 2013. The statistic highlights a crippling silk industry whose growth has been hindered by several challenges. Reshamandi is empowering silk farmers, reelers and weavers by digitising the silk supply chain with a robust ecosystem that leverages AI and IoT. The startup helps weavers and reelers get the best price for their produce, reduces their time to market, and ensures that they are able to access quality raw materials and testing kits.
  19. Oorja Development Solutions India: Oorja is a farming-as-a-service (FaaS) startup that combines sustainable agriculture practices and renewable energy to empower farmers. The team offers financing, installation and maintenance of solar pumps, agro processing mills and cold storages to farmers. It provides these services on a pay-per-use basis. The solution offers farmers an affordable and reliable irrigation, milling and cooling facility and helps them cut down their dependence on non-renewable sources of energy like diesel.
  20. S4S Technologies: S4S Technologies is transforming the food preservation industry with its indigenous solar food dehydration technique and solving the problem of lack of storage facilities in the post-harvest period. S4S reaches out to farmers across the country via its app and collects grade B and grade C produce from them for dehydration. The app then directs the farmers to the nearest dehydration node, which are run by self-help groups(SHGs). S4S goes on to buy the processed produce at a price that's 10-15 percent higher than the market rate after verifying its quality.
  21. Sand Bird: Located in Chennai, Sand Bird is making renting agricultural equipment more affordable for marginal farmers. Usually, conventional tillers tend to be expensive due to the charges incurred on fuel and hiring a driver to operate the machines. Sand Bird’s customised tiller comes with a 10x lower operational cost when compared to the standard tiller. Powered by smart electric technologies, a farmer can sit in one part of the field and operate the vehicle without needing a driver.
  22. Takachar: Leveraging the concept of oxygen-lean torrefaction, Takachar's low-cost portable equipment helps in converting agricultural waste into solid fuel, fertilisers and other specialty chemicals. The portable biomass treatment equipment can be latched onto tractors, trailers, or even carts. The machine can process biomass residues on-site within three days and convert it to a chemically dense and carbon-rich form that is moisture-resistant.
  23. TraceX Technologies: Bengaluru-based TraceX is infusing new efficiencies in the agricultural value chain with solutions that strengthen consumer trust, optimise supply chains and offer end-to-end product traceability to farmers. The startup collects data from multiple participants across the supply chain using phones, web, APIs and IoT devices. The data is then compiled in a blockchain ledger to create a digital identity for each physical commodity and trace the products across the value chain.
  24. WhatsLoan: WhatsLoan is involved in ensuring seamless access to credit for borrowers in India. The loan as a service startup has built a unique digital lending platform to help borrowers explore, compare and select a loan that best serves their needs. Moreover, they can also get their existing loans restructured on easier terms. Headquartered in Bengaluru, the platform facilitates loan distribution efficiently by roping in cutting-edge technology, sales & credit tools
  25. Whrrl: The platform as a service blockchain startup enables farmers, traders and producer companies to raise working capital during lengthy crop cycles. The platform solves the problem of post-harvest warehouse receipt finance and keeps farmers from opting for distress selling to meet their financial obligations.The startup collects data from warehouses via IoT devices and compiles it in a blockchain ledger, which creates a record of ownership, quality and location. The visibility enables lenders in making informed decisions, obviates the need for intermediaries and reduces the risk of fraud.

To know more about how these organisations are empowering the agricultural sector while enabling farmers to lead better lives, click here.


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