Indian deep tech entrepreneurs are solving some of the most complex problems in agriculture today. Take for instance, New Delhi-based RAAV Techlabs. The startup uses a mix of hardware and software platforms to assess fruits, grains and vegetables for nutrient content and other molecules, subsequently segregating them on the basis of quality.
“The conventional way is for FMCG players to procure farm produce and send a small sample to labs for testing. Sometimes, the lab cost of testing a small sample can range from Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000. We bring this cost down by 90-95%, with accuracy that is the same, if not higher, than that of traditional labs, doing the test within seconds,” says Rahul Kumar, co-founder and CEO, RAAV Techlabs.
The startup has developed portable, non-invasive hardware with infra-red spectroscopy technology that can do on-the-spot quality checks on samples of farm produce, with the data eventually being sent to their cloud platform for a complete analysis. The startup faced difficulties in the initial phase of the pandemic since the food supply chain had been disrupted. “Lockdowns were a turbulent period. FMCG brands decided not to invest in automation of quality analysis and focussed on other areas,” says Kumar.
Since the Covid-led curbs were lifted, the startup has seen rapid growth. “We have over 5,000 scans a month and thousands of data points to analyse daily. ITC is our largest customer. During the key months of the harvest season, we have been seeing high demand since last year,” he says.
Focussing on FMCG brands that operate with established supply chains, the startup aims to pivot and partner with food-tech startups in the farm-to-fork space. “Our agenda is not limited to offering quality control and cutting costs. We aim to reach farmers and help them enjoy high-quality produce and better margins,” he says.
But the startup faces challenges in completely indigenising its hardware, as chips made locally produce more heat than the imported ones, increasing the size of the device while making them less power efficient. It also faces challenges in creating awareness among farmers. To reach farmers, the startup needs strong partnerships and government intervention that subsidises use of technology and improves awareness. “The present cost of our device may put off a farmer from buying our product, but with subsidies and better understanding of the technology, they can definitely buy and use it,” says Kumar.