Muniratham, a farmer in his mid-fifties, in Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh, witnessed his crop yield fall by half following damage to his crops as he was unable to take serious notice of the details being sent to him on his phone. The previous cycle when he did notice them, his yield had been better than ever.
The notifications were being sent to him by a new product, RobotiX, that he had set up at his farm, which led to the increase in the first cycle. It was this product that helped him to understand the reasons for the loss in the second, and take corrective steps to get the optimum results again.
He is one of the lucky ones when compared to so many other farmers throughout the country who end up in debt and take extreme steps such as suicide due to inability to repay loans following crop damages from reasons like poor rainfall, wrong choice of seeds, lack of knowledge of proper agriculture practices among others.
And this is where a product like RobotiX aims to come in and change the way of not only how farming is done in the country but also improve lives of farmers by taking care of the problems that usually lead to crop damage.
Satyajeet Mahapatra, one of the founders and the CEO of eXabit Systems, the company that invented RobotiX, believes that not only can such problems be easily solved, but scientific farming can also lead to India becoming the food bowl of the world in a decade's time.
"Through RobotiX the farmer is guided in a way that not only protects the crop from damage but is also able to increase the gross output of crop by using Precision Farming practices," said Mahapatra. "I call it the MRI machine for crops."
RobotiX and how it helps
The solar powered product, two kg in weight and 40 cm tall, comes equipped with sensors that monitor crop health, but also soil temperature and humidity, and the microclimatic conditions such ambient Temperature and humidity.
It also provides the farmers with real-time data through phone notifications and also the companies android app in five languages- Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi and English- helping them make the right decision like the right time and level of irrigation, required, among others.
But Mahapatra believed, this would not have been enough as farmers would have to take care of all the problems manually and this might not give the best results.
This led to the company to introduce automation technology, which takes over the role of the farmer, by providing solutions such as irrigation, fertilisation and misting, and allowing them to remotely control these from any corner of the world, by reading the data on the ground.
"The automation technology allows steps like water being provided through valves which are connected to the device in the farm in case that is what is required or by switching the fan on or off in case of greenhouse farming," said Prashant Sahoo, founder and COO of eXabit Systems.
Along with such on-farm technologies, the product also helps the farmers choose the right seeds, the right crops for particular kinds of climate, soil etc., and will also eventually be able to forecast which crop will be the best for the land and what the output should be if all the criteria are followed. The company also puts users directly in touch with experts who help them guide through such choices.
The team and its journey so far
Putting all this together has not been easy for the team at eXabit, a company founded by four engineering college friends, Amulya Mishra, Avinash Agarwal, along with Mahapatra and Sahoo.
While they had always planned to do something of their own as Sahoo explained, but after college, they all went their separate ways, as all them ended up working for various multinational companies. "But we never forgot our original plan," recalled Sahoo.
It was in 2013 that they started working on their plan, and it was in September 2014 that they finally started eXabit. Though they started providing post-harvest services that year, the work on the prototype of RobotiX was rolled out into the field in October 2015 and was ready for sale in July of last year.
From asking friends and family for the initial investments and conducting field trials to get customers, to now when they have investors and more than 40 customers waiting in the pipeline waiting for the new batch of the 200 new RobotiX instruments to come off the assembly line, the four company and its founders have come a long way.
The last challenge
But Mahapatra believes a far bigger challenge lies ahead for them now that the product design and performance has been perfected.
"The real problem is in the resistance to change that the Indian farmers have. They are still stuck with the traditional way of farming and in the choices they make," said Mahapatra.
"The solution for their conventional problems are here with a product like RobotiX but for real improvement to come in agriculture in India the old mindset needs to be broken and such solutions to accepted and applied without hesitation," he added.
If this is true, it can quite possibly explain what has led to farmers, including Muniratham, to face losses. If he had seen the data and taken action or followed the advice he could have been able to avoid the loss he suffered, like so many others who do not have a tool like RobotiX at their disposal.