“There is much much more to agriculture and farmers than the startup ecosystem understands right now.” #AIBoss [Interview With Shailendra Tiwari, Fasal]
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Here is the second part of our three part interview 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.
Q8. Farmers are presumably risk-averse, so how do you conduct pilot programs?
This question lit me up. I wonder, a farmer who leaves his business (farming) to the mercy of gods (weather) knowing that it is highly uncertain is risk-averse? Think about it for a moment.
While we were doing our pilots early in 2018, we had to choose only 6-7 farms to run our experiments due to resource constraints but we had a list of about 80 odd farmers from a certain region who themselves keenly wanted that our pilots are conducted on their farms with little to no effort on outreach for the same.
Trust me there is much much more to agriculture and farmers than the startup ecosystem understands right now.
Q9. Why do you think agri-tech has stagnated in India for so long?
If I take a moment and think about it, I am not sure if AgTech has stagnated. Things were happening all through. They may have been slow though. If you research, you will find Agritech companies founded as early as in 2010. Although what may be true is that the ecosystem has become a lot more enabling now. The government’s policies are shaping the perception. There are incubators and accelerators helping out. Investors are interested and most importantly the farmers are a lot more interested. The technology to do something meaningful for Ag is now in place.
Also, Agtech is difficult. It does not happen in air-conditioned cabins of Koramangala but in hot summers of Karimnagar in Telangana 🙂
It is a lot of hard work, and thus naturally it may not be the most exciting vertical for a lot of entrepreneurs. It requires a bigger motivation than just ‘starting up’.
But we are an inspired generation and I strongly believe 10 years down the line, farming in India will be very done very differently than it is done currently. Startups will lead the way.
Keep a track of Agritech, you will see a lot many entrepreneurs plunging in to take up the challenge of improving the agriculture ecosystem.
You may find me very optimistic but AgTech may produce a unicorn sooner rather than later.
Q10. Which crops and regions within India are you focusing on right now?
We are currently focused on Grape, Pomegranate, Chilli, Capsicum, Tomato and Potato crops and are serving farmers and agri-institutions in Karnataka, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra.
Q11. Which crops do you think are ripe – pun intended – for major disruption via solutions like Fasal?
We believe horticulture in general has a lot of scope. It’s definitely challenging but it sure will bear lots of fruits (pun intended).
Q12. On the regulatory end, are there any challenges you’ve faced so far and do you foresee any?
Not yet. But data ownership is a general concern across the board and it will have its implications on Agtech as well from a policy perspective.
Q13. What have been your major learnings in ‘building for Bharat’ (to borrow a phrase from Ixigo’s CTO Rajnish Kumar)?
This is a great question.
Very soon in our journey we realised that solutions from the West cannot just be copied here in India. India has a specific set of problems.
For Agtech ‘meaningful frugality’ has to be at the very heart of the solutions that we build and the solutions which will scale up.
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