2020 is expected to be the year full of challenges to solve for the agritech sector with greater government and investor interest
Using technology to back agriculture knowhow can change India's food industry
Startups are using AI, robotics, drones and IoT to solve agriculture challenges in India
The Inc42’s annual series, Startup Watchlist brings together the list of top growth stage startups to watch out for in 2020 across industries including — agritech, deeptech, logistics, healthtech, edtech and more.
This article is part of Inc42’s Startup Watchlist, an annual series in which we list the top startups to watch out for in 2020 in India from agritech, deeptech, logistics, healthtech, edtech and other sectors. Explore all stories from the Startup Watchlist 2020 series here.
The advancement in technology has been a major catalyst in disrupting the Indian economy positively. But when talking about the economy, one of the primary contributors is the agriculture sector, which desperately needs technology to rescue farmers in India, boost revenue, production and tackle issues. Given that the lives of farmers and the food economy that impacts the whole population are at stake, there’s a lot riding on agritech startups and their potential impact.
In many ways, 2020 is expected to be the year that challenges such as fragmented land holdings, seed and crop quality, availability of input, supply chain and storage, weather and climate risks as well as soil nutrition are addressed through tech.
Technology came into the picture and changed things for farmers at the start of the new century. With the help of high-tech drones, IoT devices and data analytics, India’s agritech startups are now lending a helping hand to grow India’s agriculture economy.
According to DataLabs by Inc42, the agritech sector recorded a total funding of $244.59 Mn in 2019, an increase of over 350% in the amount of funding in the agritech sector from the previous year. Speaking to Inc42, agritech stakeholders said that while startups have expanded rapidly in the past couple of years, the growth of the sector has been held back by lack of government support, lack of structured data, fewer large investments, poor infrastructure, and policy lag.
However, with technologies such as AI, drones, satellite imagery, robotics and IoT being put to use, there is a huge scope for agritech startups to transform this sector that is so crucial to the Indian economy. Inc42 has curated a list of some agritech startups in India that have the potential to outshine the competition in 2020. Here’s a look.
Editor’s Note: The below list is in alphabetical order and is not meant to be a ranking of any kind.
Quality, safety, and traceability of food produce is of critical importance for agrieconomy stakeholders. Founded by Taranjeet Bhamra in 2016, AgNext focusses on solving these efficiency challenges in agriculture and the food value chain deploying its Qualix Platform. The platform uses computer vision, spectroscopy and IoT devices merged with AI-based data sciences for instant analysis of physical, chemical and ambient quality of food traced back to the source. Plantation companies, agricultural processors and other agriculture food chain participants form the customer base for AgNext.
Its revenue model revolves around providing SaaS software with new-age hardware. “We sell the machine at a price, and then charge a yearly license fee for the SaaS,” said founder Bhamra.
AgNext functions across 15 multinational companies in five countries and three large enterprise partners, cumulatively impacting around a million farmers. The startup focuses on grains, oilseeds, pulses, tea, coffee, milk, cocoa, chilli, turmeric, pepper, ginger and animal feed in India and Africa with plans of expansion to South America and other continents.
“We initially focussed on farm side technology infusion, however, we found out that for India and other developing countries, it was not possible to scale nor help a farmer by selling them devices and other technologies to create an 8%-10% yield increment over a 6-month crop cycle. However, if we provide technology at the intersection of buying and selling, then the technology acceptance was higher and evaluating quality objectively lead to a 15%-20% increase in its selling proposition,” Bhamra told Inc42.
For 2020, the company intends to work in 30 commodities and have a presence in 30 countries with a revenue target of over $10 Mn.
While agritech might be principally associated with traditional crop farming, Aquaconnect is a startup uses AI and remote-sensing technologies to assist shrimp and fish farmers to improve efficiency and farming revenue.
FarmMOJO, its AI-enabled mobile app, acts as a farm advisor and provides context-specific suggestions and alerts to farmers in multiple languages. This helps farmers make decisions to improve water quality parameters, feed consumption pattern and health management of the inventory.
Based on the data intelligence, FarmMOJO also connects the farmers with the upstream (hatcheries, feed producers, farm equipment manufacturers, lenders, insurers) and downstream of the supply chain (processors, exporters, and certifying bodies). The data intelligence improves the chances of farmers getting low-interest lending products from banks and traceability certification access for exporting to the overseas market.
Founded in 2017 by Rajamanohar Somasundaram, Shanmuga Sundara Raj and Sanjai Kumar, the Chennai agritech startup has on-boarded 3400+ shrimp farmers and is working with them at various interventions to improve their farm production and market connectivity. At present, it is working in three major aquaculture production states in India — Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat.
Cofounder Rajamanohar Somasundaram told Inc42, that believes land-based aquaculture in this country is the next frontier as it continues to grow faster than any other global food production sector. As maintaining ocean health and wild fish stocks has become a major concern, aquaculture will likely play a significant role in mitigating this concern, he added.
Rajamanohar said that technology adoption and last-mile connectivity as the biggest challenge in agritech. The startup received total funding of $1.1 Mn from Omnivore and Hatch Norway.
In 2020, the startup aims to reach 15K farmers across India and establish its presence in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian nations. It further plans to focus on disease risk management solutions for farmers, risk management solutions for banks, customisation of solutions for other aquatic species and solutions for indoor aquaculture systems.
Hardware and IoT are disrupting farm operations and agritech in India just as much as manufacturing and industry. Fasal’s AI-powered IoT-SaaS platform for horticulture captures real-time data on growing conditions from on-farm sensors and delivers farm-specific, crop-specific actionable advisories to farmers via mobile in regional languages.
Fasal’s field sensors measure multiple dynamic variables including micro-climate, soil, and crop conditions. It leverages machine learning to transform this data into farm-level predictions, anticipating various risks while helping horticulture farmers reduce input costs, optimise crop protection, irrigation, and crop nutrition. Farmers are required to pay a monthly subscription depending upon the farm size and crop for the time their crop is active.
Founded in 2018 by Ananda Verma and Shailendra Tiwari and headquartered in Bengaluru, Fasal claims to have over 100 farms and over 1000 farmers on-board in the horticulture belt of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka. At present, it works with grapes, pomegranates, citrus fruits, chillies and peppers, and tomatoes.
“Indian has really good research institutions who are producing phenomenal research in agriculture but the impact is low. We need them to open up for collaborations with high paced startups to leverage the research and create a bigger impact,” Fasal cofounder and CEO Verma told Inc42.
Besides adding more crops and expanding geographies, the startup plans to focus on the B2B2F model in 2020, essentially entering the supply chain and reverse chain market to compete with other agritech startups in India.
Farmers need a helping hand when it comes to input material and they most often rely on middlemen in the supply chain for this part of their business. This results in inefficiencies in the procurement of inputs just as it does in supply chain. Jaipur-based Freshokartz not only provides analytics to farmers based on soil tests, past crop history, and financial data, but also operates physical centres in the villages to provide farm advisory, deliver quality seeds, pesticides, and fertilisers to the farmer’s doorstep.
Freshokartz has a subscription model for farmers where farmers pay INR 500 to 1000 per year as a subscription fee which includes one soil test with unlimited call centre support and field visit at farmer’s doorstep. The agritech company also makes money by selling seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides to farmers. Freshokartz also connects farmers with the market and helps them to get a better price for their produce, which is one of the chief concerns of Indian farmers.
Founded in 2016 by Rajendra Lora, the startup currently operates from 75 rural-level centres in villages with a base of around 90K farmers. In terms of revenue, Lora told Inc42, “Freshokartz has done more than INR 10 Cr for the last 3 years and targets an Annual Recurring Revenue of INR 20 Cr. by the end of this financial year.” Ministry of corporate affairs filings show that the startup registered revenue of INR 2.28 Cr for 2017-18.
For 2020, the company has a lineup of interesting goals. Lora told Inc42 that it plans to raise $2-3 Mn in a Series A round in the next 6-8 months. Freshokartz aims to open 100 physical centres by March 2020 and double the number of farmers it is currently working with. It wants to venture beyond Rajasthan to Madhya Pradesh and Haryana and partner with NBFCs to provide credit support to farmers.
Employing a different approach to input supply for farmers, Gramophone takes an advisory and mobile commerce route to sell seeds, crop protection and nutrition products directly to farmers.
Gramophone also allows for farmers to talk to agritech and agriculture experts for solutions and product consultation. The Gramophone Farmer app has agronomy, community and agricultural input retail as the key components. To provide scalable, personalised crop care solutions to the farmers, the app has a digitised database of more than 30 crops with the agro-climatic conditions in which they grow, duration of varieties and more. The app also contains information on pest and disease problems and soil nutrition.
Founded in 2016 by Tauseef Khan, Nishant Vats, Harshit Gupta and Ashish Singh, Gramophone has an application user base of 300K farmers. Filings, accessed on Tofler, show that the startup registered revenue of INR 1 Cr in 2017-18.
A spokesperson for the agritech startup told Inc42, “India’s productivity is almost half of the global average in most of the crops. Our aim is to provide agronomic intelligence and be the one-stop solution for all agriculture input needs of the farmers as more than 40% of the seeds and crop care products sold to farmers are spurious in nature.”
Gramophone has plans to bring 30 Mn farmers on the platform and provide easy access to agriculture financing in the next few years. “We want to be the go-to digital platform for anybody who wants to reach out to rural demand over the next five years,” it said.
AI is changing most sectors of the economy and Intello Labs uses AI-based image processing to assess food quality at the source. The agritech startup works on a B2B model with food growers, processors, retailers, food service companies and other stakeholders in the Indian food supply and production chain. Intello Labs charge customers a monthly fee depending on the number of images processed.
The startup was founded in 2016 by Milan Sharma, Nishant Mishra, Himani Shah, and Devendra Chandani. Headquartered in Gurugram, Intello Labs said that being underserved in terms of technology for the food industry comes as the biggest opportunity for tech startups. Finding the right talent is the biggest challenge, the company said. Filings on Tofler state that the startup registered revenue of INR 5.8 lakhs as of FY17.
The company will be developing solutions more specific to the US and China markets. “Our mobile application solutions generated maximum interest among clients, now, they are clamouring for our sorting machines. We expect this hardware side of the business to take off in 2020,” it added.
Once products are out in the market, there’s always someone looking to cut corners to skim money off the top or pass off low-quality imitations. Farmers face this problem with grains which can have a serious impact on the economy.
O4S, also known as Original4Sure is a SaaS platform that helps brands streamline the downstream supply chain by increasing supply chain visibility.
The Gurugram-based startup empowers brands by providing them with services such as returns management is a massive concern for seed companies — 40% of their products are affected by the return process, the company told us. The focus of these businesses then becomes finding an easily scalable solution whereas, for bigger brands who are into multiple products, the recurring problem is of brand counterfeiting which leads to loss for the farmers and also brand dilution.
Founded in 2016, O4S is founded by Divay Kumar and Shreyas Sipani. Its model revolves around serialisation or the process of providing every primary product with a unique identification number right at the manufacturing site. Post this process, at every data capture event in the downstream change, O4S charges a fee from the brand.
Specifically for the agricultural and Indian agritech industry, it solutions cut across manufacturers of seeds, insecticides, pesticides, bioproducts, and fertilizers. “Though there is a lot of scope to use centralized data for the sector in our country, the biggest challenge is that the Landholding pattern is very diverse and varies from region to region, which makes engaging with everyone by a single entity a test,” it told Inc42.
The agritech startups are selected for the Watchlist based on editorial criteria as well as the recent funding, stage, growth or scale achieved in the preceding year and how it has differentiated itself or its model in India’s competitive market.