DCM Shriram Foundation and The/Nudge Institute’s Centre for Social Innovation have jointly instituted a ₹2.6-crore prize challenge from agritech and social impact entrepreneurs to develop population scale solutions and innovations within India’s agri-water ecosystem.

Aimed at fostering innovation at the intersection of agriculture and efficient use of water, the challenge seeks to encourage leading entrepreneurs to develop solutions with massive impact on stagnant livelihood opportunities, especially for small farmers, according to a statement by The/Nudge Institute released Tuesday.

Pointing out that though 80 per cent of India’s groundwater is used for agriculture, as much as 60 per cent of it is considered as inefficient utilisation, it said misaligned practices on application of nutrients and fertilisers has led to imbalance and soil degradation. “Water scarcity, non-judicious use of freshwater resources, unsustainable agricultural practices, over dependence on erratic rainfall and climate change threaten the state of the agriculture sector in India,” it said.


The DCM Shriram AgWater Challenge includes a prize of ₹2 crore for the winner in sustainable agricultural interventions. Additionally, ₹60 lakh will be distributed among top three other finalists — ₹30 lakh for the first finalist, ₹20 lakh for the second and ₹10 lakh for the third.

“Any effort aimed at conserving water on a large scale must closely align with the needs of agriculture. Such a programme would have to navigate through a complex web of factors, including weather conditions, selection of crops and varieties, yield potential, water requirements of crops, available irrigation resources, water-saving technologies, agronomic practices, agricultural extension services, accessibility of agricultural inputs, electricity availability, and numerous other variables,” said Aman Pannu, President of DCM Shriram Foundation.

She also said that policy changes that affect input pricing and agricultural produce must also be considered. The challenge invites disruptive technology-driven agricultural start-ups and social entrepreneurs to innovate and provide tangible solutions to this intricate problem specifically focused on scalability for smallholder farmers, she added.

While lucrative solutions addressing agri-water problems have gained momentum in recent years, there has been far less vitality in affordable and accessible models for the small and marginal farmers (having less than 2 hectares of land), said Kanishka Chatterjee, director at The/Nudge Prize. The high dependence on groundwater and increased vulnerability to water stress/climatic changes, land productivity, price and market risks call for audacious problem solving for the small farmers, he added.

The organisers of the challenge expect 15-20 exceptional solutions from a vast pool of applicants, who are working on improving the agricultural water utilisation, specifically for water intensive crops like rice, wheat, sugarcane and cotton. The selected cohort will be chosen and supported for 12 months by a group of advisors comprising agri investors, policymakers, academia, thought leaders from DCM Shriram, RICH Telangana, MANAGE, SocialAlpha, TISS, Acumen, ThinkAg and Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute.