How agritech startup Ecozen with its solar products helping farmers grow
Indian farmers are always at the mercy of weather due to lack of several critical solutions including storage and irrigation. Though the facilities have improved over the last seven decades, still it is a far cry for many farmers across India. The situation is similar in many developing nations across Africa and Asia. Ecozen Solutions founded by three graduates from IIT Kharagpur- Devendra Gupta, Prateek Singhal and Vivek Pandey- has come up with solar-powered storage and water pump that are being adopted widely in India and abroad. In a conversation with the Bizz Buzz, company's cofounders said that from farmers to e-commerce giants like Amazon, BigBasket, Swiggy; the adoption of its products are rising at a faster pace
How did the idea of venturing into agriculture technology space come up? Did any event at IIT days inspire you and other co-founders to set up Ecozen Solutions?
During our projects at IIT Kharagpur, we came across a problem statement that electricity is a critical problem for farmers for which they are facing multiple issues. The most important problem faced by farmers is irrigation.
We came across instances, when water was available at 2 AM or 3 AM in the midnight and farmers had no option but to go to the farm for irrigation. This was how the idea came up. We thought that could we provide some solution to farmers using our engineering knowledge.
Lack of storage is one of the critical problems faced by the farmers in general and Indian farmers in particular. Your solar storage product 'ecofrost' is aimed at providing affordable storage solutions to farmers using green energy. Can you throw some light into the features of this product?
We have developed the technology stack after understanding the problems of farmers in real life conditions. The problem faced by entire food supply chain across the globe is the lack of infrastructure at the farmers' place. When we were developing solutions for agriculture sector, we had one thing in mind that the solution should not only be simple, but it should also be convenient and comfortable for farmers because, farmers usually accept solutions which are simple and convenient to them. They normally don't go for hitech solutions.
This is because they fear that in case of failure of that technology, it will be loss for the farmers. What we did that we developed the technology, and prototyped it with the farmers. However, over the period of 4-5 years, we realised that farmers' awareness and education is a big challenge. It takes a lot of time. Secondly, there is a fear that if the technology fails, what will happen to crops. So, we developed a simple and integrated mobile app. The app is connected with our cold rooms. Farmers don't understand at what temperature and humidity, the commodity should be stored. What we have done is that we have developed an algorithm which helps the farmers to just select the name of the crop, and temperature and humidity are maintained automatically.
We also put sensors in all our cold rooms. That helps in collection of data. That enabled us to do remote monitoring of cold storage. Now, we can control all our cold storages globally through this model. This is how the use of IoT (internet of things) is being leveraged.
How many farmers are currently using your products? Can you throw some light on Ecozen's presence globally?
Today, we have 80,000 units of our products that are running actively across the globe. Out of 80,000; we have about 500 solar cold storage products that are being used in 10 countries including India, East Africa, West Africa and Southeast Asia. The rest of the products are solar pump controllers. It is deployed majorly in India. We have just initiated prototyping in South East Asia and Africa.
We are connected with more than one lakh farmers with our products. For example, through our solar cold storage product 'ecofrost', we are connected with more than 10,000 farmers. The rest 90,000 farmers are connected through our solar pump controllers 'ecotron'.
You have also come up with a rental plan for your products which farmers can use with payment of rentals. How is the response so far? Is it growing very fast for you?
We came up with this idea when a few of the farmers who were cultivating flowers approached us in 2017-18. They requested us to share the technology for three to four months. We were surprised to see such kind of demand from farmers. So, when we studied this concept of lease, we realised that there are many commodities in the market which are seasonal in nature. Such commodities don't require cold chain for the entire year. But these are highly perishable commodities. Commodities like strawberries, cherries, litchi, loose flower and cut flowers among others are high value crops but highly perishable.
Without storage, these products can't reach the market widely. This is how the concept of leasing started. It has picked up during the lockdown period. Today, we have a lot of repeat farmers. Farmers also realise that they require such technology at the collection centre or at distribution centre. This is how many organised retailers have started talking to us. Companies like Amazon Fresh, More, BigBasket, Swiggy, Zepto are our customers today because there is a need of such technology either at their collection centre or at distribution centre.
This is working very well. Also, this concept also works pretty well with the small farmers with changes. We call it cold store as a service model. There are many farmers who can't afford a monthly rental. So, we work out cold storage as a service model for a community of farmers where farmers can use this technology as per their storage usage. This model is working very well in some States of India. Also, it is working very well in Africa.
Can you give some views on the financial position of your agritech startup?
We are in the process of raising funds. We are almost towards the closure. We are working constantly on various aspects including supply chain to make our products more affordable to farmers. We have funding partners who help in working capital management. Currently, we are EBIDTA positive and going ahead, we plan to scale the business up.