Back to Earth with Krishitantra

How Krishitantra, our latest investment, will help improve soil nutrition across India.

Making Indian agriculture more sustainable is one of the three pillars of Omnivore’s Theory of Change. But how can we achieve such a challenging goal? Certainly, one critical step is optimizing the use of natural resources across the agricultural value chain, and Indian farmers spend more on fertilizers (USD 16 billion, including subsidy) than on seeds, pesticides, and tractors combined. Moreover, despite all of this spending, soil fertility in India is collapsing and farmers lack an understanding of what soil nutrition solutions are ideal for their specific landholding.

With this context in mind, Omnivore’s recent investment in Krishitantra makes perfect sense. Krishitantra provides rapid IoT-based soil testing and soil nutrition advisory solutions to farmers, Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs), and agribusiness stakeholders. Based in Hyderabad, the company was founded in 2017 by Sandeep Kondaji, Dr. Vishnuprasada Bhat, and Anand Bellan Raman.

Founder Sandeep Kondaji’s journey to Krishitantra is quite interesting. Sandeep hails from a village near Tiptur, a farming community in rural Karnataka. After completing his engineering degree from Visvesvaraya Technological University with a focus on instrumentation technology, he worked in various high-paid technical roles, before founding his own consulting firm in Oman. However, for this son of the soil, the pull of the land was strong. Sandeep knew he wanted to take an entrepreneurial leap into agriculture, but wasn’t sure where to start. He turned to his uncle who gave him the opportunity to learn farming first-hand on his land. Sandeep threw himself into the experience of being a full-time farmer.

Before planting his first crop, Sandeep wanted to get a soil test done, in order to purchase the correct fertilizers, macronutrients, and micronutrients. So he travelled to the closest Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), approximately 45 kms away, with his soil sample. After taking down his contact details, the KVK asked him to come back in a week’s time. He did, but the soil test results were not complete. He tried coming back a few more times, to no avail. It’s been many years now, and he still has yet to receive the soil test report from that KVK!

Next he tried to get his soil tested by a private laboratory, but the results were vague and their soil nutrition recommendations made no sense. Sandeep realised that this was why the other farmers in his community did not properly test their soil before planting. With his background in instrumentation technology, Sandeep believed he could use IoT to find a better solution for Indian farmers. He soon connected with his co-founders and the trio then began working on the R&D from which Krishitantra would be soon born. Pre-Seed support from ICAR-NAARM, IIT Bombay, IIM Kozhikode, Bosch, Intel, Indigram Labs, and Deshpande Startups helped accelerate technology development and commercialisation.

Krishitantra is positioned to radically alter the ineffectual soil testing system in India. Government organizations and some private laboratories oversee most soil tests. There are approximately 3,900 soil testing labs across the country, along with a small number of mobile testing units. Despite this infrastructure, only 10 million soil samples are tested each year in a country with 140 million hectares of agricultural land, most of which is cultivated twice annually. Furthermore, several problems erode the credibility of the current soil testing system. The samples are usually collected via a grid system, which is not necessarily representative of the intended field. Due to small landholdings, an area spread across even a few hectares can have significantly varied soil health. Making things even worse, test results can take anywhere from weeks to months to reach farmers, often only arriving after fields have already been planted. Finally, because farmer participation is not often requested by KVKs, and the tests are conducted free of charge, farmers pay little attention to the results and proposed advisory solutions.

Krishitanta’s first product, KRISHI RASTAA (Rapid Automated Soil Testing & Agronomy Advisory) is a disruptive agritech innovation focused on soil science. The portable IoT device generates soil test results within 30 minutes, precisely analysing macronutrients, micronutrients, pH, organic carbon, EC, and microbial counts. Based on the soil test results, crop-specific soil nutrition recommendations are automatically generated and sent to farmers. The information is disseminated via SMS in 6 languages. All of this for only one-fifth of what it costs to test soil at private labs. Speed, accuracy, and ease of comprehension — Krishitantra has achieved the soil testing trifecta.

Krishitantra’s clients include farmers, FPOs, agribusiness companies, soil testing labs, and other agritech startups. Currently, the startup works with nearly 1,000 FPOs across India with presence in states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana. Given that soil health issues are global, Sandeep hopes to transcend borders in the coming years and establish presence overseas, initially in Southeast Asia.

At Omnivore, we clearly see that the foundation of sustainable and regenerative agriculture is in soil health. Since the 1960’s, the race to improve production has come at the heavy cost of soil quality. Abuse of chemical fertilizers has resulted in rising soil salinity, underground water pollution, and the destruction of soil microbes. Investing in Krishitantra was a decision supported not only by the current applications for their technology, but its future potential to reduce GHG emissions while promoting sustainable agriculture and soil conservation.

Eventually Krishitantra aims to be a one-stop shop for everything related to soil health. The API they have developed is already being used by agri-input manufacturers, contract farming organizations, and other agritech startups to relay comprehensive soil nutrition advisory to farmers. By capturing additional information including farmer details, soil composition, and crop type, the technology can help various public and private stakeholders optimise the farming value chain. The future also holds the potential of foraying into carbon credit system, so stay tuned!

Omnivore is a venture capital firm, based in India, which funds entrepreneurs building the future of agriculture and food systems.

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