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Nurturing innovation in the agriculture sector
Entrepreneurs pitch in to help farmers with technology
As many as 24 teams of entrepreneurs, all in the agriculture start-up space, visited some of the coconut farms in Pollachi recently. They were there to meet the farmers, know first hand the challenges faced by the coconut growers, learn more about the irrigation systems used and see if their innovative solutions can be used in the farms.
After a two-day visit to Coimbatore and Pollachi and gaining better insight into the coconut crop, some of these teams have started submitting proposals to Marico Innovation Foundation to try out their technologies in the farms.
The visit was organised by the foundation, which is a non-profit organisation of Marico, as part of its “Innovate2Cultivate” programme.
This is a programme that connects start-ups with farmers of specific crops so that innovations are nurtured and taken to the farms.
Priya Kapadia, head of the Marico Innovation Foundation, explains that this is the first sector-specific project of “Innovate2Cultivate” and has the Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship as its knowledge partner.
The foundation invited start-ups to take part by listing out some of the broad challenges faced by the coconut growers and received nearly 100 applications.
Of these, 37 were short-listed as cohort members and all of them are working in the agriculture sector.
Working on alternatives
The start-ups have developed or are working on technologies and solutions such as organic micro nutrients and alternatives to pest management and soil management. But these are for specific crops. “The project gives them an exposure to a new crop, potential customers and business,” she says. Kshitij Thakur, co-founder of Mumbai-based Occipital Tech, was part of the team of entrepreneurs who came to Pollachi.
His company builds grading and sorting solutions for fruits and vegetables. “Grading and sorting is mostly done manually now and is not standardised. We use computer vision. Cameras are placed on the conveyor belts and the software sorts the produce based on shape, colour, and size, according to the requirements of the customer. We are targeting food processing companies and exporters,” he says. Through the visit, he got an exposure to coconut. “Availability of manual labour is becoming scarce. So farmers will need technology. Coconut is grown in the southern States. We have opportunity here. Our product needs some customisation for coconut as it is a different crop. We are working on a proposal,” he says.
Ms. Kapadia says that of the 37 start-ups, teams from 24 came on a visit to Coimbatore and Pollachi. They interacted with experts from NABARD, Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, etc., visited farms, and met the farmers. About 16 of these start-ups have innovations that can be immediately experimented in the coconut fields. The rest will have to work on their products to be suitable for the coconut crop. The progressive farmers are using some technologies. So the solutions given to them should be far superior. “We are waiting for proposals from the entrepreneurs. We will take it to the field, do experiments, and research. The whole process can take anywhere from three months to two years. But, we will know the impact in a year. Then we can take the programme to other crops,” she says. The farmers were also happy to meet the entrepreneurs and discuss the challenges.