While pursuing aeronautical engineering studies at Babu Banarasi Das National Institute of Technology and Management, Lucknow, Almond Panwar and Rishab Choudhary used for testing drones/UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in nearby agricultural fields in Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh.
After interacting with the farmers, they realized that almost every one of them was facing problems related to pest attacks and crop diseases that went undetected until the destruction reached the ETL (economic threshold level), where the value of the crop destroyed exceeds the cost of controlling the pest, or until there is visible damage to the crop.
According to a study by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), about 30-35% of the annual crop yield in India is wasted due to pests. India’s Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry believe that this leads to Rs 50,000 crore being lost every year.
“Farmers only apply pesticides after the infestation has crossed the EIL (Economic Injury Level – the lowest population density of a pest that will cause economic damage). nutrient loss based on soil testing has hampered crop growth quality and excessive fertilizer use has depleted soil fertility,” said Amandeep, co-founder and CEO of BharatRohan Airborne Innovations. Your story.
“We realized that this increased the cost of agricultural inputs and that the realization of profit for the farmer decreased significantly. This pain point gave rise to the idea that there must be a decision support system of end-to-end for farmers that can provide early diagnosis of pests and diseases,” he explains.
After further research, Amandeep and Rishabh found that drones equipped with imaging spectrometers (hyperspectral cameras) can play a vital role in acquiring the right data at the right time.
They collaborated with Dr KD Singh, who was then a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California, Davis. It helped them analyze the data and build proprietary spectral vegetation indices which played a vital role in early diagnosis of crop problems such as pest attacks, outbreaks and nutrient deficiencies even before any visible damage. .
In 2016straight out of college, they foundedAirborne Innovationswhich offers an end-to-end technology-based decision support system to optimize input use, minimize crop losses and maximize profit margins by facilitating crop advisory services through its imagery hyperspectral based on UAV/drone.
What BharatRohan does
The agritech startup currently provides drone-based consulting services to nearly 6,000 farmers in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan – nearly 20% of which buy agricultural inputs from the company.
The founders claim that this relationship allows the startup to implement sustainable farming practices and track every agricultural activity in the field. Hence, this ensures that the agricultural production meets the quality parameters of the buyers, as BharatRohan also purchases agricultural products from the same farmers and supplies them to major retail chains, FMCG players, manufacturers of masala and exporters based in India.
The startup also offers agri-advisory services in the pre-sowing phase and cross-cultural operations of the crop life cycle on farmers’ fields.
“Farmers working with BharatRohan have increased their crop production by 15-20% while saving 215,000 liters of water per acre per season, which has helped farmers significantly increase their profit margin,” says Amandeep.
Registered in Delhi, BharatRohan has its corporate and regional offices in Lucknow and Hyderabad, respectively.
The startup has a team size of 20 members currently.
Having a solid technical background, the founders have developed a product offering that provides data to prevent pest attacks and reduce crop losses. Using timely data acquired from drones, the startup enables farmers to practice precision farming.
While farmers were initially expected to pay for data, the team moved towards a model that offered a comprehensive sourcing platform to institutional buyers with traceability as a key added value. The solution is vertically integrated and offers farmers and OPA (Peasant Organizations of Producers) market access through repurchase agreements. Paying customers have access to agricultural products without pesticides or residues, as well as an agricultural traceability platform.
The company taps into export market demand while providing “Just for Life” certified agricultural products, which can offer higher margins for the startup as well as for the farmers.
BharatRohan’s USP is a unique UAV/drone based Hyperspectral Imaging Decision Support System (DSS) for farmers to assist in early diagnosis of pest attacks, outbreaks and nutrient deficiencies to ensure the reduction of pesticide residues. Spectral Vegetation Indices (SVI) are developed in-house, which helps in the early diagnosis of growing problems.
“We have a technology-focused outgrower/FPC (agricultural producer corporations) outsourcing program with commodity buy-back agreements,” says Amandeep.
Funding and monetization
BharatRohan lifted around Rs 3 million to date in a mix of convertible notes, grants (backed by the Biotechnology Institute of Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), set up by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India) and equity (Upaya Social Ventures and Acumen Fund Inc).
The startup generated revenue of around Rs 6 crore in this financial year. The company demonstrated a positive EBIDTA.
BharatRohan sells agricultural products (spice seeds, pulses and essential oils) to modern retailers, FMCG companies and manufacturers. It sells agricultural inputs to partner farmers and CPFs.
Bharat Rohan serves 6,000 farmers owning 20,000 acres of the total area. It operates in three states — Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. The startup’s clients include MORE Retail Pvt Ltd, Aachi Special Foods, Spencers, ITC Limited, Dabur Limited and Suhana Masala among others.
The path to follow
According to a report by Markets and Markets, the agricultural drone services market in India is valued at $1.2 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $5.7 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 35.9% from 2020 to 2025. This growth is attributed to exemptions of drone operations by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the collection of aerial data, leaving a large space for Indian aerial data to thrive.
BharatRohan plans to strengthen its presence in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and expand to serve over two lakh acres of land in the next 18 months.
“This will help our partner farmers collectively save over Rs 400 crore in agricultural inputs and crop losses. This will boost our efforts in building a sustainable and traceable supply chain for seed spices. It will also augment our drone/UAV-based spectral imaging technology to offer alerts and warnings to spice seed growers, as well as incentivize them to grow pesticide residue-free crops like cumin, coriander, fenugreek, starfruit and fennel,” says Amandeep.
“We will also build climate resilience across our set of practices. We will use the recently raised seed funds to fuel the sales engine to sell over 7,000 MT of these products to domestic and international modern retail, FMCG and grinder customers and expect to generate income of Rs 100 crore in the next two years,” he adds.
BharatRohan faces competition from domestic players such as BharatAgri, Gramophone, DeHaat, etc., while globally it competes with IndigoAg.