Name of the Company: Farmss
Name of Founder(s):
Mayur Tambe and Shraddha M Bagwe
Despite the advances in technology, the agrarian sector of the country seems to have been completely bypassed on the road to modernization and automation. Green shoots of change are, however, now visible.
Ask any farmer, and he would unequivocally state that the soil is the most important asset to carry out any form of cultivation. The fertility of the soil and the amount of essential nutrients he needs to add, plays the biggest part in what he is finally able to produce. This is where understanding the condition of the soil becomes very important for the farmer.
Currently, soil tests are done in a laboratory setup in India, which faces a lot of problems in terms of lack of adequate quality infrastructure and skill sets. Farmers often fail to receive the results on time, and even if they do, there is a high chance of the result being fudged. In the end, farmers end up making approximate decisions on the condition of their soil. “Our attempt is to provide a new way for these farmers on how soil testing service can be availed near field while also getting reliable results,” says Shraddha M Bagwe, co-founder, Farmss.
To get around this problem, Farmss is building a mobile based near-field soil testing and fertilizer recommendation platform for small and marginal farmers to enable informed decisions about fertilizer usage. A compact solution to provide quick, but reliable soil testing service that can be taken around anywhere in the country, with the help of village level entrepreneurs, is what the startup wants to achieve.
“We believe the last person in the value chain i.e. the village level entrepreneur, is the most important person in the whole implementation and therefore our product’s four key attributes are – easy to reach/scale, easy to use, accurate and reliable, low cost,” says Bagwe, 23.
The solution that Bagwe and her co-founder Mayur Tambe have come up is simple for the farmer to follow and consists of three parts. The first part involves sample collection where a person on-field collects the soil sample in a bag and tags the bag. The information of the farmer, such as name, geo location, land area and crop is recorded in a mobile application.
The sample then needs to be taken to the village of the Farmer Producers Organization (FPO) where tests can be run using Farmss kit, which consists of a chemical colorimetric kit that extracts the nutrient from the soil and develops a colored complex. The intensity of solution coloration is a measure of the nutrient concentration. The Farmss mobile based color detection system that consists of a phone and an add-on considers the solution as an input and reads the color to give a quantitative nutrient concentration value.
“The existing colorimetric kits are not practically used in the field as the color detection by the human eye is very difficult and due to interference of natural light. This gap is addressed by Farmss mobile based color detection system to get appropriate quantitative concentration value,” says Bagwe.
Lastly, based on the nutrient concentration, the same testing app further calculates the appropriate fertilizer recommendation for a specific farmer. The testing app is linked to the sample collection application, which provides the farmer necessary information to calculate the fertilizer needed. This report can also be sent electronically sent to the farmer’s phone. The nutrient status and fertilizer recommendation report helps the farmer make informed decisions and ensure optimum fertilizer usage
Farmss Soil testing process.
Getting the mix right
Tambe and Bagwe met at a workshop organized by Digital Impact Square, a social innovation center and an initiative by TCS Foundation in Nashik. Shared interest to do something innovative around agriculture meant that the duo ended up collaborating for what was to be innovators working on a “challenge” for a period of six months.
“The complexity of the challenge inspired us to find a solution. Throughout the first six months, we validated the problem statement in the field, attempted a couple of solutions, failed and reattempted. At the end of six months we had version one of our solution prototype which was reviewed by DISQ panel and we were given a go ahead for our further journey,” says Bagwe.
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But the end of six months proved to be a tipping point for both the co-founders. “We had other plans in place, but we knew we could not stop what we had started to work on. This was fading as an internship and becoming more of our own venture. We knew addressing this challenge was as much socially impactful as it was a sustainable business idea. We saw that as a perfect social business opportunity and decided to pursue it. I took a year off from Welingkar Institute, where I was doing my PGDM and then the two of us were completely dedicated to Farmss,” says Bagwe.
For small and marginal farmers who are 80% of the total (about 110 million), saving on the nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) or NPK fertilizers can also add a lot of value to decrease their cost of production. The wide ratio of one soil testing lab for 2.09 lakh farmers in India (with the capacity of a lab being 3000 samples per year) and the lack of skilled lab personnel puts a question mark on the quality and reliability of lab results leave alone the timeliness of the same.
Co-founders Mayur Tambe and Shraddha M Bagwe.
According to the Census of India 2011, District Census Handbook Nashik, almost 60% of the farmers (about 5 lakh) are such, who want to do the soil testing, but cannot, and have ended up taking approximate decisions.
“We want to impact the lives of these small and marginal farmers and bring them the scientific way of making decisions while creating awareness among those who were till now not able to experience the benefits of soil testing due to lack of facilities,” says Bagwe.
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The service would essentially be charged on a per test basis, which would be somewhere ranging between Rs. 50-100 for five parameters (NPK, pH, EC) and recommendation. “We are currently in the development and calibration stage, where we calibrate the results against a standard certified laboratory and we look forward to starting our pilot tests early this year,” says Bagwe.
The young co-founders initially used their stipend to fund the project, but have found support from the ecosystem along the way. For instance, the National Agro Foundation (Tamil Nadu) has come on board as the research partner for this project. “They also have an NABL certified soil testing lab in Chennai and supported us with the lab research and testing, which means we did not have to bear that cost. Currently we are also working with another lab in Nashik which is supporting us by providing their already tested samples and results, which we recheck to validate our solution. This is how we have managed to lower our research expense by finding like-minded people and people who believe in our vision,” says Bagwe.
Sahyadri Farms with over more than 8000 marginal farmers, on the other hand, being a Farmer’s Producer Company is also helping the startup implement and validate the model with the farmers associated with them.
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