Fasal: Removing guesswork from farming

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    Fasal's Founder Shailendra Tiwari

    Fasal’s key offering, the Fasal Kranti system, comes with multiple applications that are capable of fully changing the way farmers approach horticulture. The plug-and-play Internet of Things (IoT) system runs on solar and battery power, and can be easily installed on any horticulture farm. In an interview with Rural Marketing’s N. Bobo Meitei, Fasal’s Founder Shailendra Tiwari said, “Fasal farmers have been able to make a more informed decision backed by agronomic models and data science to help them grow more and better. Fasal’s system, thereby, removes guesswork from farming and makes precision farming accessible to horticulturists.” 

    What shortcomings in the agriculture sector motivated you to start Fasal?

    India is still very much an agrarian economy with about 54.6% of the workforce employed in the agricultural and its allied sectors (equates to nearly 20% of the country’s GDP). But despite the immense reliance on the sector, the agriculture system in India is very outdated. We have an immense pool of workforce to plough and till the lands but the knowledge we rely on is dated and heavily involved in guesswork. Wisdom-based farming combined with climate change, shortage of resources, poor post-harvest management, inefficient management of farm inputs, allocation and access inequalities have all contributed to unpredictability in agriculture and as a result, lower and poor quality yield. There is a lack of science-backed data available to the Indian farmers and this affects every subsequent decision they make at the farm level. 

    Both Ananda (Fasal Founder & CEO) and I come from families with farming backgrounds and have observed these problems firsthand. We witnessed the challenges faced by farmers on a day-to-day basis due to the lack of farm-level and crop-specific data which could aid in better decision-making in farming operations. Wanting to help our families prosper in the trade they have been involved in for decades, both of us decided to work together to build an agritech solution that could help revolutionise horticulture. We started by setting up a farm for running multiple experiments to understand the various aspects of crop growth, agronomy and how technology can solve it. Over time, the culmination of this research led to the birth of Fasal. Through Fasal, we are on a path to remove guesswork from horticulture and as a result, improve crop yield and quality through data-driven tech made possible through AI and IoT systems. 

    Kindly walk us through Fasal’s unique precision-farming model. 

    Fasal’s key offering, the Fasal Kranti system, comes with multiple applications that are capable of fully changing the way farmers approach horticulture. The plug-and-play Internet of Things (IoT) system runs on solar and battery power, and can be easily installed on any horticulture farm. The device is onboarded with various sensors which measure various farm-level macro and microclimatic conditions along with rainfall, soil moisture, soil temperature, wind direction, leaf wetness, etc. The data collected from the hardware device is processed into actionable alerts for farmers based on agronomic models, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning (ML). Horticulture farmers are then alerted via the Fasal app on their mobile phones — lending them a comprehensive picture of their farms and allowing room for corrective and preventive measures. 

    Another key innovation that the Fasal Kranti provides is the Disease and Pest Prevention System which forewarns farmers about possible disease and pest outbreaks and offers alerts on which preventive sprays to use to minimise damage. The preventive sprays have allowed farmers to cut down on pesticide use by 15-30% and thereby reduce its impact on the environment. The farmers, using Fasal’s system and advisories, can prevent disease/pest attacks on their crop much before the occurrence of such an event.

    Its Irrigation Alert System helps cut down water consumption in farms by 30-50%, allowing farmers to irrigate using the right amount of water and at the right time. With enough data, our Fasal farmers have been able to make a more informed decision backed by agronomic models and data science to help them grow more and better. Fasal’s system, thereby, removes guesswork from farming and makes precision farming accessible to horticulturists. 

    What challenges do you face in convincing Indian farmers to adopt more precision farming? 

    One of the main issues when it comes to adopting precision farming in India is the misconception that technology is expensive. Most farmers in the country have small land holdings and don’t work on big budgets for running their farm operations. Their priority is to make every buck count when investing and save what is left. Due to this, there is a common misconception that technology has to be expensive. The processing, aggregating and analysing power does come at a cost in terms of computing, storage and processing power but tech has come a long way and by its virtue, cheaper. But the average farmer is still in the dark about current tech’s affordability. They also believe that the ROI on such an investment is not immediate enough to justify implementing them. Since it is still a relatively new sector, the main challenge is to dispel these notions and enforce confidence in agritech by making it more accessible and affordable to the farmers. As Fasal, we are trying to address these problems so that agritech is no longer a far-fetched idea to Indian farmers but a standard practice in horticulture. 

    With the adoption of Fasal’s precision-farming, how much increased productivity can a farmer achieve? How many farmers have been benefited by it so far? 

    Since Fasal’s inception in 2018, the real-time insights through our IoT system have helped farmers collectively save 10 billion litres of water (thanks to 30-50% lower irrigation water use), achieve up to 15-30% reduction in pesticide costs and about 15-30% rise in yield and quality of yield. We have also helped farmers achieve up to 40% increase in their incomes – one of our missions from the start. By equipping farmers with crop intelligence, we have positively impacted 50,000 plus acres of farmland across the country to mitigate production risks and achieve higher yields and profitability. 

    Please elaborate on your revenue model. 

    For getting timely alerts a farmer/entity needs to recharge their subscription monthly, half yearly or yearly. 

    According to you, what measures would you like the government to introduce to ensure agritech firms are well-funded and stay more innovative?

    The Indian government has shown keen interest in the agritech sector and has already taken a step forward in the right direction. With the current government’s impetus to double farmer’s income, the need for agritech as a must-have solution for enhancing farming is greater than ever. In the 2022 budget announcement, it’s been stated that the government will be setting up a dedicated fund for agtech startups with a blended pool of capital through NABARD. The government is also looking to deploy drones for agriculture monitoring, crop assessment, digitisation of land records and spraying of insect pesticides. Policies and schemes like the Mission for Integrated Development Horticulture (MIDH) are also helping push the needle forward in growing and developing the horticulture sector in the country, an incentive for more agritech firms to enter the market with new solutions. 

    In terms of data stack to power the various agritech solutions, the government has implemented the Indian Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA) which is moving the industry towards transparency and traceability. 

    Given the adoption of more precision-farming, how much growth do you see in India’s agriculture sector?

    A sector worth $370 billion and counts to 12% of overall exports from the country, the Indian agriculture sector has tremendous potential if complemented by technology. With the country seeing a sturdy tech framework being built up in recent years, new technologies like AI, ML and IoT can be leveraged more easily than ever before. This is further boosted with the government working on AgriStack and finalising its framework as laid down by IDEA (India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture). As the infrastructure for implementing precision farming becomes more robust, so will its accessibility and affordability for Indian farmers.

    In terms of horticulture, to give you a rough idea, the current software export from India is valued at $113 billion. But with the right tweaks and help from agritech solutions, horticulture can very well be the next major export from the country and could far surpass software export figures. As Fasal, we are making these optimisations through our IoT system and also making them cost effective and accessible to the farmers at large. 

    With government interest in strengthening the agricultural sector plus interest from VCs and equity investors, 2022 can be seen as an important year for the agriculture ecosystem in the country and by extension, the agritech sector (EY report places Indian Agritech market potential to be at $24 billion by 2025). India is also home to over 1000+ agtech startups which can lend itself for the massive growth that will be witnessed in the agri sector in the coming years. 

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