By Anu Thomas
Company name: Avanijal Agri Automation Pvt Ltd
Founder name(s): Channabasappa Kolar & Vijayeendra H S
City it is based out of: Bengaluru
Headcount/Strength of the team: 3
Investors & amount raised: Bootstrapped, Rs 30 lakh
Farming – as we know it – may be one of the most stressful occupations in India.
Water scarcity, patchy power supply and dearth of labour have consistently led to poor yield, echoing a much larger crisis that continues year after year. The burden of loan on farmers further augments this cycle of hardship.
“One of the biggest farming challenges in India is irrigation,” says co-founder of agritech startup Avanijal, Vijayeendra H S. “Farmers generally use drip or sprinkler systems, which typically wastes water and can often over-irrigate crops, affecting the final yield,” he adds.
To help farmers sustain themselves against the pervasive shortage of water and use existing sources efficiently, the Bangalore-based startup has introduced an ingenious method of irrigation – one that can be programmed and controlled using just an app.
Avanijal has developed an automated system – termed ‘Nikash’ – that leverages IoT and wireless technology to control irrigation motors and valves in the field. This low-cost system consists of a controller that is connected to an app, wireless sensor nodes that are embedded into the soil and repeaters that establish communication between the controller and the nodes.
Farmers can configure their irrigation schedule on the app and remotely monitor the activity thereafter, automating processes that were earlier done manually.
“Using the app, farmers can ensure that the field is irrigated on time and constantly monitor the condition of the field without physically being present there,” says Vijayeendra.
Drip irrigation, on the other hand, will require the farmer to directly monitor the supply, which includes switching on/off the motor and opening/closing the valves. And with irrigation activities getting only a few hours of power supply a day, most of which happens overnight, it is difficult to manage it during odd hours.
“With the help of Nikash, however, farmers can adopt precision irrigation based on time, volume of water available and even soil moisture,” says Vijayeendra. “The system has also been designed to take voltage fluctuations into consideration, so the time or volume of water is automatically adjusted during the event of power outages,” he adds.
This means that when electricity is available, the controller – which is connected to the wireless sensor nodes in the ground – automatically switches on the motor as and when it is scheduled by the farmer. It stops when one portion of the land gets the stipulated amount of water, and then moves on to the next portion – as programmed on the app. At the end of the cycle, the irrigation wraps up for the day.
“Say, a farmer has 10 acres of land and each of these needs to be irrigated for different times with different volumes of water – all that can be configured in the app,” says Vijayeendra. “This is the most fundamental function of this controller,” he adds.
Another adjacent product line which the startup is undertaking is anchored around crop monitoring.
“Our focus so far has been on irrigation, but that can easily be adapted to crop monitoring,” says Vijayeendra. “Sensors on the field collect data which is then stored on to the Cloud. We can analyse that data and provide input back to the farmer in a readable and graphical way for them to take action,” he adds.
Avanijal has already started working with IBM to upload the data on to their server and use its Watson IoT platform to conduct the analysis.
Co-founded with a colleague from his Wipro days Channabasappa Kolar, the duo founded Avanijal in September 2013.
“I wanted to start something in the field of energy conservation,” says Vijayeendra. “I was looking to partner with someone for this venture and that is when I chanced upon Channabasappa who was working in the rural sector back then. Together, we zeroed in on agriculture as our focus area,” he adds.
Their first product – Nikash – took three years to develop. Admittedly a slow and painstaking process, it finally came to fruition last year when it was commercialized.
“We first drew a comparison between what was being done abroad with the progress made here,” says Vijayeendra. “While India was solving agrarian problems in a very primitive fashion, places like US, Europe, Japan and Australia were miles ahead in terms of introducing innovation on their farms. But instead of reproducing their products here, we wanted to tailor-make them for Indian conditions and accordingly add, omit or modify certain features – a challenge that took us three years to ” he adds.
This process involved participating in many krishi melas (agriculture fairs) to get direct feedback from farmers or potential customers.
Avanijal Founders, Channabasappa Kolar & Vijayeendra H S
“These visits were greatly helpful in tuning our product based on actual problems faced by farmers,” says Vijayeendra. “These trips made us realize that we have to make our product work at a wider voltage range because of frequent power fluctuations in India. We also had to make our controller work with multiple water sources. But the main learning was pricing,” he adds.
According to him, India is a price-sensitive market and the few products that are available today are too costly for many farmers. This is one of the differentiating factors about Nikash: “The cost of our solution is affordable and varies from Rs 12,000 to Rs 25,000 per acre. A farmer can start with the basic plan by automating a small portion of the land first before expanding its reach later. What is more, we have modelled it such that the payback period for farmers can go up to 2.5 years,” he adds.
Cultivating a new trend
Available in only Karnataka at the moment, the founders want to stabilize the product in its home ground first before expanding it to other states. Although adoption has been a little slower than expected, the duo is optimistic about its adoption.
“We always knew we would have to hard sell it to farmers because word of mouth marketing works in agriculture and that can be quite slow,” says Vijayeendra. “Everybody appreciates innovation which can help them, but at the same time, they want to be cautious and want someone else to try it out first,” he adds.
Avanijal was one of eight shortlisted startups for Cycle 1 of Qualcomm Design in India Challenge (QDIC) this year. “The experience of working with Qualcomm was great. It was particularly helpful in terms of the technical support we got for our product,” says Vijayeendra.
The startup has been exploring opportunities in markets outside as well as corporate farmers in India to jumpstart its production and sale. Vijayeendra feels that agriculture in India is, more often than not, seen with the lens of sentimentality and not as an activity that needs to be economically viable – which also explains why it has largely been an underserved market in terms of technology.
Avanijal wants to change that one step at a time, starting with its irrigation system to helps farmers to grow more with less water, labour and electricity.
Source: Economic Times