How Kota-based Eeki is revolutionising India’s farming sector with its agritech innovations
Amit Kumar and Abhay Singh have created an automated farming technique that reduces water wastage by 80% and the need for soil as a growth medium, while helping harvest healthy, cost-effective, and pesticide-free produce
Agriculture has always played an important role in the Indian economy, creating a livelihood for more than half of the country’s population. With a majority of farmers still using traditional farming methods, the agritech industry is poised to grow over the next decade. The growth has been catalysed after a digitisation drive of various aspects of the supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Agritech is slated to grow at a CAGR of 50% until 2027, with stakeholders expected to add $100 billion worth of value to the sector over the coming decade and potentially increase farmers’ net income by 150%.
One of the organisations that hopes to play an important role in that growth is agritech startup. Founded by Amit Kumar, Co-founder and COO, and Abhay Singh, Co-founder and CEO, in 2018, Eeki incorporates technology into agriculture to digitise the farming process through its patented growing chambers and IoT control mechanisms. Setting up farms in collaboration with land owners and farm partners, Eeki’s innovative farming techniques lead to produce that is healthy, cost-effective, and pesticide-free, with a one-acre farm able to produce 160 metric tonnes of tomatoes per year.
The duo’s interest in farming and helping create a sustainable solution for agriculture began soon after they graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and began working for startups — Singh in product design, IoT, and automation, and Kumar in mechanical engineering and business development.
Kumar says, “During our time at IIT-Bombay, we participated in various competitions in the field of robotics and automation, and won numerous national and international awards. When we began working, we felt we could do much more with our lives. We were always passionate about building technology that lasts for decades and solves real-world problems. After a lot of research and groundwork, Abhay and I found that the lack of high-quality foods and changing climate are huge worldwide issues that must be addressed as soon as possible. As a result, we decided to put in our papers and devote all our time to this endeavour.”
Travelling across the country, meeting farmers, and researching India’s climate and its effects on crop production, the two founders learned about the gaps in the current farming practices. They realised the issues faced by an average Indian farmer, and how new farming technologies could help plug the gaps.
The two quit their jobs and set up base in Kota, Rajasthan, early in 2018, and began their research by setting up a rooftop polyhouse. Incorporating Eeki by the end of the year, Singh and Kumar continued their research for three years to come up with their farming technique.
“At first, our plan was to conduct research on exotic vegetables, and move to a bigger city to scale up business after becoming successful. But during our first year of operations, we interacted with a lot of people and found that Indian masses are not keen on consuming exotic vegetables; instead they just want high-quality, everyday vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies, and others, for daily consumption,” Singh says.
Eeki’s patented growing chambers are built with a polymer composite that regulates the plant’s root zone such that it eliminates the need for soil or coco-peat. The roots of the plants are suspended directly in air, removing the risk of soil-borne infections. All vital functions for a farm, such as irrigation, climate management, and data management, are also completely automated through IoT devices that monitor the farm's vitals on a daily basis, through a three-point system with a sensor, a master device, and a controller.
The automated irrigation system recirculates RO-purified water enriched with required nutrients for plant growth from the water tank to the growing chambers at regular intervals, helping farms save more than 80% of the water consumed.
Kumar says, “Eeki sets up farms in collaboration with farm partners, where they bring in either land and capital for the initial setup, or just capital where the farm is set up on Eeki-owned land. In both scenarios, farm partners receive regular and fixed returns, which are free from tax liability.”
Eeki currently has four operational farms, three in Rajasthan and one in Haryana, covering an area of seven acres. About 37 acres of Eeki farmland is under construction, including two large-scale farms of 20 and 15 acres each. The Eeki team itself has scaled rapidly, growing from an 80- to a 180-strong company within the past year. The co-founders have plans to grow their farm acreage just as quickly as well.
Being recognised-by the state government’s iStart Rajasthan programme also helped the agritech firm expand business. “iStart has been instrumental in supporting Eeki's growth in several ways, such as by providing a Techno fund (investment) of Rs 20 lakhs, helping us build connections with other potential investors, and securing government grants through the iStart programme,” Kumar says.
On the company’s vision for the future, Singh says Eeki plans to set up thousands of acres of farm clusters across different regions of India. “With our innovative technology, we aim to cultivate a diverse range of Indian staple vegetables and make them accessible to all, and to create hundreds of employment opportunities for rural unskilled labour,” he says, adding that the company plans to take its farming techniques and technology to international markets as well.