An ecosystem sprouts to take the chemicals out of Indian agriculture


Agriculture in India is plagued by problems such as ineffective water management and excessive use of inorganic material. Many startups have emerged in recent years to provide solutions to these issues. The ecosystem is also coming together to support these innovations.

Earlier this year, the Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) launched a food and agri-business accelerator in Ahmedabad. CIIE uses its Infuse Ventures fund to invest in agritech startups, and also launched a water innovation accelerator in July. Some of the other agri-focused funds include Omnivore Partners, Aspada Investments, and Rural Agri Ventures. Livpure is India’s water tech-focused fund.

Seattle and Bangalore-based Unitus Seed Fund is another firm that invests in startups that focus on building solutions for the masses. Today it announced that the fund had led investment in VillFarm, a startup that provides organic pesticides and fertilizers, as well as water saving technology.

The other investors in the round included Zurich-based Rianta Capital, Sify founder R Ramaraj, and a group of non-resident Indians.

“Thanks to a subsidy-driven regulatory pricing regime, inorganic solutions have been over-used. This has resulted in compromises to crop-input efficiency, soil health, and the environment,” says VillFarm founder Sundarraj.

Sundarraj finds that there is a surge in demand for alternative organic products. It is one of the fastest growing agri-input segments. Right now, this demand is fulfilled by a host of small local operators delivering products with inconsistent quality and limited applicability across regions and crop categories. VillFarm claims that its products are all organic and can be used across multiple soil types, crops, and crop life-cycles.

It provides organic agri-input products in categories like land preparation, seed treatment, basal application, active growth flowering and fruiting, and pest management.

VillFarm also launched Water Bank, which helps to conserve water and release it over time. The product is for water-stressed areas. It absorbs large quantities of water during rains and releases it to plant roots slowly, on demand. It will use the fresh funds to build a portfolio of proprietary agriculture input products and expand distribution across South India.

New technologies for producing cheap organic fertilizers and pesticides and solving irrigation issues are urgent need. Rohini Nilekani, chairperson and founder of Arghyam Foundation, which grants funds to water tech firms, believes that anything that can help stem the deteriorating scenario is well worth investing in.

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