Moment in the sun: Agritech startups are helping farmers thrive during Covid-19 lockdown

Agritech is considered as one of the panaceas of India’s agriculture woes. For startups in the space, the Covid-19 pandemic is the perfect test case of their efficacy.

Several agritech startups are leveraging their flagship services to uplift the crumbling farming community amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
The months from March to June every year experience the onset of the spring season with multicolor flowers blooming in the trees, freshly-grown fruits turning ripe and rabi crops ready to be harvested. However, the spring season this year has not been very colorful.

The nationwide lockdown due to coronavirus has resulted in acres of farmers’ produce left to rot or sold at dirt cheap prices- Rs 3 per kg for onions in Maharashtra’s Lasalgaon mandi. Transport constraints, labour shortage and limited market access, with almost no buyers, is deeply hurting the farmers in India. Even though the government has lifted certain restrictions in order to ease the operations in the agriculture industry, the farming community is still striving to cover the losses.

With digitization acting as a saviour for many small and big businesses around the world during the pandemic, the farming industry cannot be left behind. Carrying the same objective, agritech startups in India are leveraging their flagship services now more than ever to uplift the crumbling farming community amidst the pandemic.


Taking mandis to the web
Removing supply chain woes and streamlining the process, e-mandis have been created by startups like AgriBazaar where farmers are able to sell their produce.

“As a full-stack agritech player, we have replicated the physical mandi to an (electronic) e-mandi aggregator model. In our platform, once a farmer registers and uploads his produce. Buyers like merchants, traders and corporates can give orders for purchase,” Amith Agarwal, co-founder and CEO, AgriBazaar told ET Digital.

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After a trader orders his requirement and pays the sum, AgriBazaar’s on-ground team follows a contactless pick up process. The team goes to the farmer’s field or backyard to pick up the required produce maintaining a six-foot distance from the farmer, who later gets his sum through an online payment.

According to Agarwal, the firm has facilitated transportation of 5000 trucks of agri-produce, even in distant places like Lakshwadeep.

“Last month grape sellers in Satara district of Maharashtra were able to sell their produce to traders in far off places like Ludhiana, Jaipur and Kota through our app,” he said, adding that the agritech firm has seen an increase in registrations and believes the number will soar.

AgriBazaar has a presence in around 16 states in the country with the majority of its services in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal, among others.

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He lauded the government’s pro-active measures and allowing inter-state transport of farmers’ produce, but also pointed out the challenge of acquiring labour for the same.

“Covid-19 is an opportunity for Indian agri-start-ups to showcase how tech-intervention and innovation in agriculture can solve the problem of not only yield, but procurement and fasten the entire agri-supply chain,” he said.

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Pic: Agricx Lab, which provides quality inspection of the farmers’ produce using AI and ML.


With a similar aim to fill the supply chain gap for farmers, Pune-based Farmpal has its collection centres set up within four kilometers of farm reducing the travel period and time for farmers and ensuring sale of fresh produce.

This produce is then taken by Farmpal’s logistics partners to its distribution centres across different cities in Maharashtra- Osmanabad, Ahmednagar ( Kopergaon, Shirdi) , Pandharpur (Sangola) Nasik, Kolhapur, Saswad, Khed and Pune (Manchar, Narayan Gaon)..

“Exports have stopped, local mandis are working on erratic schedules and transportation from villages to cities and vice versa is hampered due to enforcement of lockdown. This has hurt the farmers as their harvest ready produce sits on their farms, or is being purchased at much lower prices – both due to reduced demand and in some cases, the usual exploitation in more rural areas, where in traders are making the most of the increased demand in the cities but not passing on the benefits to the farmer,” said Puneet Sethi, co-founder, Farmpal.

Farmpal’s initiative to take the responsibility of picking produce directly from the farm reduces the farmers’ fear and resistance to go out.

Sethi highlighted that during the ongoing crisis; the firm is taking whatever farmers have available with the hope that the end consumer is less picky.

Similar to AgriBazaar, Farmpal is facing the issue of reduced staff but is continuing to serve their customers with whatever they have amidst the spike in retail consumption.

AI, ML providing quality assurance
In another novel use of technology to streamline farming industry operations, Agricx Lab is providing the service of quality inspection of the farmers’ produce using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“Manual inspection and inefficiency results in $200 billion worth of value loss across the global supply chain. For e.g., Price of rice goes down by 50% if the broken percentage is higher than 15%,” explained Saurabh Kumar, founder, Agricx Lab.

Agricx does not directly work with the farmers, but through FPO's (Farmers Produce Organisation), trading partners and large buyers.

Its smartphone app can be used by an individual or an enterprise for quick quality analysis of the farmer’s produce simply by analyzing the image of the produce. Its AI-powered feature can detect count, uniformity, color and external defects in the produce.

The season is important for both farmers as it is the time the former sow food and cash crops such as lentils, oilseeds, vegetables, etc.,. However, sowing seeds may not be easy as Covid-19 cases spike will make it difficult for farmers to acquire many agricultural inputs. Further, government officials need to get crop-related data to ascertain progress of farmers and estimate food output and farm incomes along with giving them advisories about weather changes.

At a time when district agricultural officials could not venture out constantly due to lockdown, CropIn, a SaaS-powered platform, is sending climate smart advisories to farmers along with educational videos and training content. This includes delivering decision making tools, live reporting, analysis, interpretation and data-management of the entire ecosystem of farming.

“CropIn also has turned to account management online, to provide goods and monetary assistance to farmers. The company also is tracking farmer health by keeping a connection with its clients regularly,” said Jiten N Shah, CRO, CropIn.

The solutions by CropIn- better agricultural practices and efficient methods of farming have the potential to save resources and give the right results, which is crucial during the crisis.

The firm has deployed its services across pan India including Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, Khuti and Deogarh in Jharkhand, other villages in Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Telangana, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

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