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Here is the third and final part of our three part interview (Part I, Part II) with Shailendra Tiwari, founder of Fasal, an Ag-tech (agriculture tech) startup that is focused on building AI and IOT (Internet-of-things) based SAAS solutions to address the woes of Indian horticulture farmers. Fasal’s primary aims are to increase and improve the quality of the yield and lower input costs for the farmer. It is currently deployed in farms across Karnataka, Maharashtra and Chattisgarh.
In this interview, Shailendra gives us an inside view of agricultural tech in India, how Fasal is seeking to disrupt the space and why agri-tech stagnating has more than just a little to do with it involving the sweltering heat in Karimnagar as opposed to the air-conditioned cabins in Koramangala.
Q14. Are you looking at drone integration going forward considering it is being utilized by high-end farms in some regions of the world to disperse water and/or pesticide?
Yes we are. In fact the way Fasal has been architected is to make sure that we can collect data from any source. Be it sensors, satellites or drones.
And let me tell you, not only in Hi-tech farms, I have met farmers with 3-4 acres of land exploring drone solutions.
Don’t forget finding farm labourers is becoming a big and visible problem now. If we can provide drone services at a cost equal to that incurred with that of labours, I don’t see a problem in their larger adoption if these solutions can reach out to the farmers in need.
Q15. It would be safe to assume that apart from key fundamentals, each crop needs its own software and system. What is the research process like and could you share some interesting learnings from that?
Wonderful question. I assure you that each crop/each region has its own requirements. For example there are regions in India where a disease called Powdery Mildew is a big big problem for chilli. But for the same chilli, in a different region, it is practically non-existent.
For us, even deciding which is the next crop we should go after, is complex decision involving agronomy, farmer personas, regions where it is grown, financial consideration, cost of cultivation and at least 10-15 more considerations.
Once we have decided which crop we pick, we do a thorough research on it’s lifecycle, the pests and disease which are a menace to it, the irrigation patterns and practices followed, the amount of research done on that crop across the world, the amount of research done on that crop in India. Post that we identify the biggest problems farmers face with that crop. Once that is done, we do a technical and domain assessment of the feasibility of building solutions around those problems. Once all of this is done, then starts the process of research and development on building and validating the needed solutions.
Q16. Legacy agricultural research institutes have been around in India since the British era and a lot of research work is conducted in India today too – have you been able to take advantage of both the organizations and the corpus of material and/or is there any kind of institutional partnership you’re contemplating in this field? Considering you’re well placed to translate that traditional research into tech solutions.
I absolutely love how this question is framed. These are the same words in the same order I have used at certain places. In fact I was at University of Agriculture sciences, Bengaluru recently and Dr. Chandrashekara, head of entomology department and I discussed this at length.
There is good research in the universities of India. We have very learned agri scientists and professors in India. And as startups we do have the opportunity to take the research done to where it belongs, the hands of farmers.
We at Fasal have been doing it and will continue to do so extensively in future. In fact through this answer I invite any university/scientist/professor who wants to collaborate with Fasal. Not only this, we have also been working on partnering with universities/institutions for the greater good of farmers very very actively.
Q17. Tell us about your tech and AI stack.
Said much already 🙂
Your readers may need to sign an NDA to know more (pun-intended) 🙂
Q18. What can you share with regards to your emphasis on sustainable farming?
To be honest, there is no option but for farming to be sustainable. If we continue with current ways, we will reach a point of no-return. We have to bring awareness that everytime a farmer sprays an extra dose of pesticide on the farm, what ecological damage happens. We have to bring awareness that everytime a farmer irrigates for an hour more than needed, what the world loses and much much more.
I imagine the scenes from Christopher Nolan’s movie Interstellar where Blight has taken over the world and food production is under severe threat and thus humanity’s survival. It may sound far-fetched but if you start analysing the current scenarios on scale, you may realise that it may not seem so far fetched as it does.
Q19. Globally and in India, where is agri-tech and where do you see it heading?
I say this to everyone who puts up a similar question. Keep a track of Agtech for next 4-5 years.
A lot is going to change. Technology and solutions will revolutionise the way farming is done. We will move towards a more efficient and sustainable ways of farming. Farmers will grow better, sell better and we will eat better. We will see technology enabled, one acre profitable farm models (something I am obsessed with currently) through which a farmer family of 4-5 will be able to live a dignified life. Given that we in India have more than 50+ million people directly/indirectly, imagine the impact Agtech will make at scale. It will revolutionise this country more than ecommerce did or more than metro-mobility tech did.
In fact I am waiting for a day when Agtech will help move the needle of the GDP that comes from Agriculture. And trust me that day may not be very far.
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