College friends turn agripreneurs to offer customised innovation to farmers
Launched in 2016, AgroNxt offers services either to improve productivity, quality and price realisation, or minimise costs or losses for farmers.
With an aim to ensure that developing technologies and innovations in the growing agriculture sector reach farmers, two former agribusiness students - Rajat Vardhan and Ashutosh Tiwari - from Pantnagar University, started AgroNxt in 2016.
“Despite major developments in this area, farmers are not able to get the benefits of these technologies. The main reason is slow adoption of technology by farmers, the end users, and inability of the innovators — individuals, companies, research units etc — to uniformly reach, explain, demonstrate, and train the end user to be able to reap the benefits of innovative technologies,” says Ashutosh, Co-founder of AgroNxt.
Realising the gap in “slow technology adoption,” AgroNxt provides farmers access to agri-innovations – going directly from research labs to farmers, and making farming more profitable for them.
Need of the hour
While India remains one of the top-three producers of multiple agricultural commodities in the world, productivity continues to remain a problem for the agrarian community. Increasing data inputs, satellite imagery, and technological assistance have the capacity to mitigate uncertainties associated with farming.
The government is now partnering with agri-startups to reach the farming community and assist them with crop insurance, and analyse weather data to save irrigation and labour costs. Yet, the staggering debts, poor productivity, low quality produce, and high pre and post-harvest losses highlight that small and marginal farmers with land holding less than one hectare remain far from this agri-tech revolution.
“The change is happening, but it is slow. Earlier technology came to the farmers as harvesters and transplanters, but now they are opening up to digital services,” says 31-year-old Ashutosh.
It was to bridge this gap and give wings to their old dream of making farming a profitable profession and bringing technology to the agrarian community, that Rajat and Ashutosh quit their decade-long management jobs in MNCs in 2016.
“It took us one year to develop the service platform and product offerings in R&D and testing,” Ashutosh remembers.
Over the past two years, the duo have built a technology platform where services are focused on upgrading conventional to precision farming and all products are focused on improving productivity and soil health.
Farmers like 30-year-old Navroop Singh from Tarn Taran, Punjab, get real-time advisory services and on-ground support from the AgroNxt team.
“Earlier, I used to cultivate wheat and rice full time, like every other farmer. Through AgroNxt application, I tried chilli (hot pepper) cultivation, following their package and cultivation techniques. Now, I reap four-fold profits in 70 percent of the time, compared to old crops,” he says.
The AgroNxt service model
Mohali-based AgroNxt searches for innovations that create “real value” for the farmers; they then develop and localise that innovation as a product or service. This product or service is then made available to farmers using a distribution channel of AgroNxt partners. Their YouTube channel, which showcases these innovations in a user-friendly, native language audio-visual format has over 1.5 million views.
Further, AgroNxt also ensures that a farmer understands the technology, by extending the agrarian community “tech-enabled digital advisory”.
“We have developed an approach to help farmers in a way that is sustainable, innovative, and affordable,” Ashutosh explains.
AgroNxt utilises latest digital technologies such as Machine Learning, geo-spatial analysis, and big data to generate value from product/service offered.
They also provide robust information services in the form of accurate and value-driven analytics to individual farmers - data related to soil, input-use, pest-incident, and irrigation are generated as advisories to the farmers.
The team follows a two-point model for providing services to the farmers:
1. Increased productivity
To increase productivity, innovations that help in quality assessment and judicious use of water, seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides are preferred. The team also explores modern technology, including genetically-modified (GM) seeds to enhance production. They also guide farmers to shift into high-value commodities such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fisheries, animal husbandry and poultry.
2. Digitisation and financial inclusion of rural population
The central government’s digitisation drive aspires to give internet and mobile access to all. As a participant, AgroNxt helps farmers by leveraging technology through robust training programmes.
“Not just farmers with smartphones, but famers without it are also trained on how to find affordable innovative solutions to their problems,” he adds.
Increase income through technology
By focusing on innovation, affordability, and ground-level work, AgroNxt delivers products and services with an aim to transform farmers from “livelihood earners” to “profitable agripreneurs”.
The services and products offered by the startup are:
1. e-farm NXT cards – Provides digital farm services such as digital soil health, irrigation services, input use, and custom soil recommendations through a low-cost subscription model.
2. Raiz’ optimisation technology – a non-chemical soil health and nutrition product line.
3. Small implements – The organisation offers farm equipments that improves labour efficiency in the field.
4. Free advisory and digital extension – Free digital advisory offered through AgroNxt mobile app to farmers nationally
FICCI’s Next Generation Indian Agriculture - Role of Crop Protection Solutions states that usage of proper crop protection products can increase crop productivity by 25-50 percent by mitigating crop loss due to pest attacks.
AgroNxt tries to increase farm productivity by minimising the misuse of inputs. This reduces per-acre cultivation expenses and increases farm profitability.
“Taking above facts into consideration, if on an average a farmer is making Rs 3,843 per month from cultivation and livestock, AgroNxt will be able to at least improve income by 20 percent, Rs 769 per farmer per month,” Ashutosh adds.
Incubated and funded by IIT Kanpur and accelerated by SIGMA Social Startup Accelerator programme in Bengaluru, AgroNxt was awarded the Best Startup of the Year in Punjab. They have also gained recognition from Startup India and the Chhattisgarh government.
While other companies like CropIn Technologies, Oxen Farm Solutions, SatSure, Agricx Lab, AgroStar, and KrishiHub have made a foothold in the agri startup ecosystem, Ashutosh believes that AgroNxt business model remains unique.
“We have a policy to choose the best industry partners and do not create multiple partners in a certain geography to avoid competition and sales cannibalisation within partners. Due to this, we compete with other smaller local players. Our products are unique and innovative in nature; the local competition offers substandard substitutes at best,” he explains.
Ashutosh hopes to contribute to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of doubling farmers’ income by 2022.
“I dream of an India, where after graduation, a young chap starts an agribusiness from his paternal land where wheat and rice was always cultivated. But now, he can become a global brand dealing in gerbera flowers,” he concludes.