Note to readers: Humans of Tech is a column that is designed to give the readers a ring-side view of all the exciting tech advancements carried out in India’s high-end labs and start-up garages while also delving into what makes these technologists tick
For Gangavalli Naga Suresh, a farmer from Eluru in Andhra Pradesh, reading about rising debts and farmer suicides, is disturbing and baffling in equal measure. He believes technology can offer solutions for many of the problems faced by growers.
“It’s usually very difficult to convince farmers to use technology but my father was open to the idea and we flourished,” Suresh tells Moneycontrol. He has been working with Syngenta, growing hybrid corn seeds on his farm.
Syngenta provides him with the tech application suite developed by Cropin, an agritech firm. As a result, Suresh says he has been earning 30 percent more profits annually, with the yield rising significantly after he turned to tech tools.
The application tells him when to start sowing, the variety and quantity of seed best suited for his plot and the irrigation required.
“The biggest advantage is I do not have to pay a single rupee for Cropin’s technology,” says Suresh. Syngenta, the agricultural company that he’s contracted to, bears that cost.
Building the knowledge graph
When Cropin started in 2010, digitisation was almost unheard of on Indian farms. “The industry had no standard operating processes. The whole industry lacked a knowledge graph,” says Cropin co-founder and CEO Krishna Kumar.
He and co-founder Kunal Prasad -- they knew each other from their school days in Jharkhand – felt it was their mission to solve the problem, which would have huge socio-economic implications.
Today, Cropin manages 500 crops and 10,000 varieties with the help of a master model that uses all the available agricultural data and then hyper-tunes it to that location and crop variety.
“We are in 92 countries today and have digitised 30 million acres of the farm. We are building our knowledge graph across continents,” says Kumar, who was earlier a tech leader at GE.
Cropin’s proprietary knowledge graphs are created on trillions of farm pixel datasets that grow and multiply over time, allowing farm companies and other customers to build and implement various AI models in any country in the shortest possible time.
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The romantic view, a decade ago, was that agritech firms should go and work with farmers directly. “That doesn’t really yield results for a technology firm like Cropin and that’s why we have taken the B2B route,” says Sujit Janardanan, the company’s chief marketing officer.
Cropin has raised $47 million in funding, so far, from a clutch of investors, including ABC Impact, Chiratae Ventures, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google. It claims to have served more than seven million farmers globally.
Cropin’s digitisation offering Cropin apps capture and digitise agri data. They use satellite imagery, remote sensing, data science, IoT, drones and AI/ML to derive real-time actionable insights. “The mission is to digitise agriculture from farm to fork,” says Cropin’s CTO Rajesh Jalan.
Cropin Cloud, widely regarded as the world’s first industry cloud for agriculture, is an enabler in solving agri-ecosystem challenges such as traceability, yield unpredictability and supply-chain disruptions.
It delivers a scalable agri-stack that comprises a triad of platform layers, including Cropin Apps, Cropin Data Hub and Cropin Intelligence.
“In the last few years, there has been a massive explosion of agtech players and everyone was trying to solve bits and pieces of the problems in the food value chain. That created another problem statement in the ecosystem -- the problem of broken point solutions. That’s how we came up with the industry cloud for agriculture with embedded intelligence,” says Janardanan.
The goal is to have a single interconnected information exchange platform that is almost real-time. “And we want Cropin Cloud to be that platform,” says CTO Jalan.
Cropin’s data bank Data Hub enables the interface of multiple agri-data sources like on-field farm management apps, IoT devices, drones, mechanisation data, or remote-sensing satellite and weather data.
The Data Hub has also pre-built data frameworks to ensure cloud-free satellite imagery and boundary detection of farm plots.
Cropin’s intelligence platform has developed 22 deep-learning and AI models, creating intelligence around yield estimation, irrigation scheduling, pest and disease prediction, nitrogen uptake, water stress detection and harvest date estimation.
Under its AI Labs initiative, Cropin has put together a team of researchers and scientists in artificial intelligence/machine learning and agrisciences. They are working on computing global agriculture assets, to build intelligence for a third of the planet’s cultivable land by 2025, the company has said.
Humans behind the tech
When Kumar was with GE, he often came across media reports of farmer suicide and agricultural distress. “I was hassled. On one hand, the food prices were going up and on the other hand, farmers were struggling,” Kumar says.
So when he decided to leave GE to solve this problem, many of his peers cautioned him about the complexity of the challenge.
GE had taught him the significance of the Six Sigma strategy, which is about making business processes efficient. Can we look at every farm as a factory? Can we digitise every farm? Can we measure everything that happens there and then iterate and make it more productive? That was the thought process in 2010.
“With our efforts, people now identify agritech as a deeptech industry, where the brightest people come to work,” says Kumar.
While Jalan came from Microsoft, where he had built FarmBeats, chief business officer Mohit Pande was the country head of Google Cloud and Janardanan was the India marketing head at Google Cloud.
“Earlier no farmer wanted his son or daughter to become an agriculturist. That’s changing now with the intervention of technology and many of the farmers are now seeing themselves as entrepreneurs,” says Kumar. With technology offering more information on farmers and potential yields, banks are coming forward with specialised finance offerings, bridging a yawning gap.