Here is all you need to know about agri-business incubators in India
Agri startups are mushrooming across India. The Indian government, along with NABARD, is supporting the formation of agri-business incubators that are promoting agri innovation, FPOs, and agri technology.
Shrichakradhar Varanasi 17 April 2023 1:22 PM GMT
The Government of India, along with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), has actively supported the formation of agri-business incubators in and around the city of Hyderabad in Telangana. The aim is to provide a nurturing eco-system for the agri-business start ups.
Here is a broad overview of some of these agri-business incubators and their work.
ABI of ICRISAT
It was in 2003 that an Agri Business Incubator of the International Crop Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), was set up in Hyderabad. That, with the support of NABARD, has promoted 16 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) in Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
“ABI-ICRISAT is the first agri-business incubator of its kind in the country,” Aravazhi Selvaraj, its head, said with pride. From providing basic technology support in the beginning, the incubator today offers high end technology support in the newly emerging area of digital agriculture and machine learning, to their incubatees. According to Selvaraj, since its inception, ABI-ICRISAT has nurtured over 100 startups in the field of agri-business.
One of the agri-business that it has supported is that of Trivikram Kumar, a mechatronics engineer by qualification, the founder of XMachines, a startup which aims to provide the farmer with an alternative to manual labour that would take care of weeding, seed dispersal, spraying pesticides, etc.
“Initially, the aim was to infuse technology in the field of agriculture. I spoke to several farmers to find out what was a pressing need where technology could help out and realised that the biggest problem for the farmers was the lack of access to ready labour,” said Kumar.
So, the mechatronics engineer designed and built multiple prototypes and tested them in the fields. Once he was satisfied with the prototype, he approached ABI-ICRISAT for assistance. ABI-ICRISAT in turn provided Kumar with much needed expertise in the field of agriculture and helped him reach out to potential partners for deployment of the product.
The product is now in its final testing stage. According to Kumar, once deployed the prototype will reduce the operating costs of farming can by 30 per cent.
Like the enterprise of Trivikram Kumar, there are other startups that are also being supported by ABI-ICRISAT.
“Currently there are 14 startups being supported by ABI-ICRISAT,” said Jonathan Philroy, manager, ABI-ICRISAT. There is a rolling process under which any startup is free to approach the incubator for assistance.
“The current entrepreneurs are more open to approach an incubator for assistance, as they are able to comprehend the tremendous value the association brings to the table. The services provided by ABI-ICRISAT are tailor made to suit the needs of the startup,” Philroy said.
While the association with ABI-ICRISAT has been greatly supportive, Kumar said funding continued to be a problem for a high-technology start up. “The funds provided by the incubators are mostly drawn from various government schemes and hence are limited. This limitation in funding has slowed down the process to develop and to validate the technology. Better access to funds would truly enable the incubators to support and nurture the startups on a much larger scale,” he observed.
Agri- Innovation Hub at PJTSAU
Agri-Innovation Hub of the Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU), Hyderabad, was founded in 2020.
NABARD is funding the hub with a grant of Rs 9 crore for a period of five years. The aim of the hub is to promote food and agri-tech startups, in both agri-tech and rural entrepreneurship.
The agri-hub has three programmes — agricultural innovation, student entrepreneurship programme and the rural entrepreneurship programme.
The agricultural innovation programme supports and nurtures startups at various stages of development. Agri startups from anywhere in India can apply to be a part of this incubator.
The student entrepreneurship programme has been specifically designed to create a culture of entrepreneurship amongst students. This programme is open to participants from across the country, and particularly encourages the students of PJTSAU, Hyderabad, to avail its benefits.
The rural entrepreneurship programme is designed to encourage grass root entrepreneurs operating in the hinterlands, rural youth, women, farmers and FPOs, and help them out in the last mile delivery. As part of the programme, it is not just new startups that are supported, but also those enterprises which are already working in rural areas. The programme will be implemented at Jagtial, Warangal and Vikarabad.
a-IDEA Technology Business Incubator at NAARM
Association for Innovation Development of Entrepreneurship in Agriculture (a-IDEA) is housed in the Centre for Agri-Innovation at ICAR-National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (ICAR-NAARM).
Established in 2014, a-IDEA caters to innovation and entrepreneurship in 14 priority domains of agriculture and allied sectors. NABARD initiatives such as Agri UDAAN, KRISHIBOOT, IMMERSION PROGRAM, AGGNITE and SENSITIZATION programme are hosted by a-IDEA.
Explaining what a-IDEA did, its additional chief executive officer, Vijay Avinashilingam said, “It validates the idea, provides the technical and business support, connects the startups with markets, provides physical working space and helps in capacity building.”
According to him, there are 113 startups that are associated with a-IDEA, out of which 82 startups are being supported across 17 Indian states.
The new age farm companion
The idea of providing the farming community with artificial intelligence (AI)-based bots was developed by Susanth Masana, founder and CEO of Andhra Pradesh-based Farm Sathi, while he was studying at IIT Varanasi.
During the COVID pandemic, he was staying with his grandparents attending his online classes. Masana, who is from a farming family, saw first hand the problems faced by his grandparents, and what began as an attempt to solve their problems soon took the shape of a startup.
Masana realised that weed management and pest control were the areas that needed urgent attention. So, along with his team he began developing various models of bots, and he approached the incubator at IIT Madras for mentoring and market assistance which it did. But, the problem of language crept up, when it was time to demonstrate the product to the local farmers for trial runs.
So, Farm Sathi approached IIT Hyderabad for the next phase of development. IIT Hyderabad provided Farm Sathi with working space and technical expertise. In order to get more market connections and better exposure, Masana approached a-IDEA for incubation.
It was a fortuitous association as a-IDEA provided Farm Sathi access to farmlands with varied soil types. This was ideal to test the functioning of the bots, and enabled the company to speed up its testing process.
The AI technology provides suggestions about the right time to harvest and the right fertiliser as per the need of the plant. The smart technology would help in controlling the spread of pests in the field, and also help farmers bring down the use of chemicals by providing targeted weedicide.
While the incubation proved to be invaluable for Farm Sathi, Masana said that in the longer run, if multiple incubators with different strengths joined hands, it would provide start ups like his even better support. Also, equipping the incubators with up-to-date technology, like a 3D printer would enable the startups to validate their prototypes in real time.
Farmneed, a startup company, is currently associated with the agri hub. It offers farmers a one application (app) solution for their crop needs. The company provides services in finance, weather forecasting and crop management solutions over the smartphone and other smart devices.
The Ag-Hub at PJTSAU has helped Farmneed take off well and establish itself in the market, said Sumana Brahma, head of operations - Telangana. The hub has provided the startup scientific guidance and has helped it reach out to the local farmers.
Farmneed is available to farmers in vernacular languages. “Farmneed wants to provide farmers with a solution to the ever persisting problem of plant diseases and pest management,” Brahma explained. She estimated that nearly 30-40 per cent of the crop losses was due to diseases and pest activity, and Farmneed would help farmers by predicting the outbreak of a disease well in advance. “This would give farmers enough notice to take precautionary measures,” she pointed out.
Besides pest management, Farmneed also provides structured guidance to the farmers, in the several problems they faced, and would also have weather forecasting as one of its services available on the app.
“Post harvest, Farmneed is also working on providing services in output management, by linking the farmers with the markets,” Brahma added. She also felt that there was work to be done in the role of crop insurance to the farmers, even though there are government insurance schemes. So, Farmneed is working on providing a better crop insurance alternative in association with insurance companies.