After shortlisting 25 semi-finalists out of a large pool of 844 applications in April, The/Nudge Prize program selected 8 finalists for its inaugural Cisco Agri Challenge. The top five finalists, out of the eight, will receive a milestone grant of INR 15 lacs. The purpose of the challenge is to identify farmer-centric solutions that can increase farmers' profitability with a potential to reach 10Mn lives and bring positive social & environmental outcomes. The winner has a prize purse of INR 2 Crores, and the shortlisted contestants will get mentorship support, investor connections, and go-to-market support.
Every shortlisted startup idea is different from each other and yet addresses a common goal of making agriculture for small and marginal farmers more profitable. These versatile startups use science and technology to make agriculture at par with the digital age. The solutions cover a broad spectrum from making agriculture more climate-resilient to providing storage facilities for the produce to prevent crop loss.
One of the startups, Bioprime, has developed effective & affordable agri-biologicals with time-proven biomolecules, life-friendly chemistry, smart material, and energy use. Using biotechnology, it aims to offer relief to farmers worldwide and support the farmers struggling with changing climate and its associated issues like crop loss, temperature fluctuations, drought, resilient insects, and diseases.
The finalists foresee the opportunities of the future and at the same time, address today’s challenges. Takachar is on such a mission by transforming massive amounts of waste biomass into marketable products globally. By using a novel concept called oxygen-lean torrefaction, it has developed and patented the design of small-scale, low-cost, portable equipment to convert waste biomass into solid fuel, fertilizer, and other specialty chemicals.
Disrupting the usual way of farming and providing a digital touch to the conventional methods is one feature that makes each finalist a winner. Ecozen aims to revolutionize the value chain system, aspire to disrupt the way perishables are handled, and build an intelligent and completely automated after-sales service solution in the long run. It brings change through products like Ecofrost, a portable solar-powered cold room based on thermal energy storage. Ecofrost can maintain low temperatures without any backup power by understanding the power generation challenges in hinterlands. It is firmly integrated with the internet and gives extensive feedback to improve product performance, serviceability, and reliability.
S4S Technologies, another finalist of the challenge, also addresses the issue of post-harvest losses but at the farm level. It accepts grade B and grade C produce from farmers for dehydration. Their key business model is to reach out to various farmers across the country through their app-based model. Each farmer can access the web page and an app to mention the product and quantity they wish to dehydrate.
Another finalist entry to the list goes a little beyond the post-harvest losses and tries to create solutions for both supply and demand sides of the product. The startup, named Whrrl, uses blockchain-enabled tech solutions to reduce banking frauds in warehouse receipts, enabling banks to increase their lending books while facilitating easy access to finance to farmers in a real-time environment. Their warehouse receipt finance suite has three essential technical elements: Blockchain, Mobile App for Borrowers, and Trading Platform. The Mobile App is connected to banking partners and thereby helps banks receive and dispose of loan applications in real-time.
Another finalist, EmerTech Innovations Pvt Ltd, has developed a platform- AgroTrust, using blockchain technology. This platform addresses the farming challenges like spillage and spoilage of produce occurring across the supply chain due to a lack of transparency at the farmer level and lack of access to private insurance or credit. According to EmerTech Innovations, "AgroTrust removes the possibility of wrong information, corruption, or mischief in the system implemented by the farmer collective." This product can provide traceability and transparency to everyone involved in the value chain, from farmers to consumers.
The startups concentrate on both crop management and the animal husbandry sector. For instance, Dvara E-Dairy Solutions follows a digitized approach to solve the problems of small & marginal dairy farmers and financial service providers (lenders and insurers). The innovative solutions from the startup use technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning models, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to digitally assess the cattle information and provide specific recommendations for the cattle — making the whole information personalized.
Going beyond, another startup deals with the farm problem of today and the future. In the current times, when the size of agricultural land is decreasing, Khethworks's mission is to give smallholder farmers globally an unprecedented level of control over their lives and livelihoods through affordable and high-quality technology. Their patented solar pump plans to change a hyper-efficient, portable, open-well submersible system. "It is a solar pump that is small enough to carry with a flow rate, but big enough to satisfy marginal farmers' preferences at a bankable price point that does not depend on subsidy," said the Khethworks team. They can deliver this unique offering through market-leading efficiency that affordably gives the small system a big performance.
These finalists have already shown their creativity, vigor, and the intent to create social impact and will now work towards scaling their solutions in the next few months. Based on their performance in the final round, a grand jury will announce the winners in April 2022. A grand prize of INR 1 Cr will be awarded to the winning startup to grow further and increase its reach and the runner-up will receive INR 25 lacs.
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