While agritech startups are helping farmers harvest a better crop, they need policy support to help transform the Indian agriculture sector.
While the government, intending to boost farmers’ income, has set-up 713 Kisan Vigyan Kendra and 684 agriculture farm community centres, progress on technology adoption has been slow. This has allowed agritech startups to step in and act as technology enablers. Data from Tracxn highlights that there are 508 agritech startups in the country.
Take the case of the soil health card which has registered over 10 crore farmers and tested two crore samples. But its applicability is limited, given a three-year review of soil quality. Fasal, a Bengaluru based startup, has gone one step ahead as it provides real-time updates. Even though costs are higher than the government’s Rs. 190 per soil sample, the platform has more accuracy. “We collect several kinds of data via our on-farm sensors. We work on micro-climatic parameters, below soil parameters, solar intensity. This data is collected every half an hour or an hour, and we produce recommendations about four things. We do specific stage disease and pest assessment, and irrigation advisory,” says Shailendra Tiwari, founder, Fasal.The platform covers 100 farms. It assists farmers via mobile app, SMS and WhatsApp, and that too in different languages. So, a farmer with a hectare of land can purchase sensors and equipment for Rs. 15,000-20,000, which lasts four-five years, and pay Rs. 300-700 per month based on the crop. “This leads to low and timely fertiliser usage and increased productivity — farmers can recover costs within the first or second cycle,” says Tiwari.
On the other hand, CropIn provides macro-level solutions improving delivery mechanisms for farmers. With its smart farm platform, it is helping enterprises provide farmers’ support in terms of loans, insurance, crop and seeds. Operational in 46 countries and with a base of 1.6 million farmers in India, CropIn uses satellite imagery to create a crop-signature. This signature can then be used to assess crop damage, productivity and farmers’ credit-worthiness. CropIn also helps conducts field trials to determine crop sustainability in the region. “We work with development agencies, food majors, and banks/insurance companies. Plus, the company provides food traceability,” says Krishna Kumar, founder and CEO, CropIn. “Traceability, by assessing seed quality, fertiliser use and other parameters, helps farmers meet phytosanitary conditions required for exports.”
Meanwhile, NinjaCart works on a farm-to-market model with 27,000 farmers. It works on an algorithm based model to determine output and predict demand. “We have collection centres at the farm level, fulfilment centres for aggregation and distribution centres to deliver products to retail stores. Overall, supply chain wastage due to our operations is 3%. Farmers gain 15-20% more at NinjaCart, than if they had sold to the mandi,” says Thirukumaran Nagarajan, co-founder and CEO, NinjaCart.
But the government’s response, in some instances, has been muted. Although Punjab government’s PAGREXCO announced a deal with CropIn to ensure potato traceability—this will be done using QR code, wherein farmers will be able to differentiate between certified seeds and, in turn, the government will be able to assess output—not many states can boast of such initiatives. “Agri-tech can’t do much to weaken the hold of APMCs, which enjoy too much control over the market. There should be a policy to encourage agri startups,” says Pravesh Sharma, co-founder and CEO, Kamatan Farm Tech.