Protective farming is fast catching up in India with its growth doubling annually over the past 4-5 years, says Saurabh Agarwal, Director, GROWiT Pvt India Ltd.

Protective farming is using products and materials such as plastic mulch film, shade nets, crop and fruit covers, sticky traps, pond liners, lay flat tubes, vermi beds, hole punching machines and agri wires that will help reduce use of pesticide and improve the per hectare yield. 

“The concept is growing exponentially. It is growing 100 per cent year-on-year for the past 4-5 years. It is a very good concept,” Agarwal told BusinessLine. Prospects for it to grow in the country are good as it has covered only 1.5-2 per cent of the total area under farming under various crops. “In other countries, its penetration is 60-70 per cent,” he said.

Focus on fruits, vegetables

GROWiT, which is currently serving over 15,000 farmers, is focussing on vegetable and fruit crops to market its protective farming products. “We are carrying out some trials in grains, too, but it will take 3-4 months before we get any substantial results. We are carrying out trials on our demo farms,” the start-up’s director said.

The trials helps increase production and cut down costs. “These are ongoing processes,” he said.

Explaining the concept of protective farming, Agarwal said for instance, farmers usually grow onion in two rows on a bed of soil. GROWiT has come up with a mulch film that will help them grow onion in 10 rows on the same bed. “The productivity of the farm automatically goes up five times,” he said.

The mulch film also controls weed growth on farms. For example, weeds growing on a cabbage firm consume all nutrients and water content from the soil. This results in the farmer either deploying labour to remove them or spraying weedicides that could be harmful. The mulch film cuts out light to the soil and, in turn, the weed gets eliminated. “This proves to be cost-effective as it saves huge costs on labour as well as weedicide,” Agarwal said.

Crop cover

Some of the fruits and vegetable develop black spot on them. This is due to the ultra-violet radiation. In order to protect the crop from the radiation, farmers spray pesticides so that it can act as a screen. 

GROWiT has come up with a crop cover than can help not only prevent the black spot but also save on the pesticides. The cover also helps reduce the temperature aiding its uniform growth across the farm. The crop cover also ensures effective growth of white roots that need darkness.

“As a result of ensuring darkness through crop cover, the white roots are able to absorb the water immediately and transfer it to the plant. The effort and energy for the transfer is less and thus the plant grows well,” Agarwal said. 

$50-b global market

The firm claims its products help prevent soil erosion, cut pesticide and water usage, and increase yield by 40-200 per cent. “We also help reduce the soil salinity as higher usage of pesticide results in the salt content increasing to make the soil hard. We help maintain soil moisture, which breaks down the soil content,” he said. 

The overall market size for protective farming is $50 billion with India’s share likely to be about $5 billion. “We are looking for a 10 per cent market share of this,” the company’s director said.

GROWiT is currently present in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. It has over 140 franchises in these four States. The start-up plans to increase its coverage of farmers to 30,000-40,000. “R&D is our USP since we keep doing research on our farms and we are helped by our franchises in every taluka in the four States were are present. This is to ensure that the farmer need not travel beyond 15-20 km to get to our store,” Agarwal said. 

Expanding via app

A feature of GROWiT’s offering is that since all its products are made of plastic, it buys back the plastic once the crop is harvested. “We do this to ensure carbon neutralisation and recycle it,” he said.

The start-up is associated with Krishi Vigyan Kendras and agricultural universities to make farmers aware of its products. It has tied up with universities for research and development. The firm has developed an app to expand its footprint, which is available in English, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and Kannada languages. 

“The app will give farmers the return on their investment so that they can understand what they stand to gain by investing ₹15,000 or ₹20,000. It is linked to our YouTube channel where farmers can see all the case studies,” he said. 

GROWiT looks to increase its profit to ₹40-50 crore this fiscal from ₹19 crore last fiscal. The firm, incorporated in 2019-20,  has already earned ₹7.5-8 crore in the first quarter. “If the number of farmers with us increases to 18,000, we can achieve ₹40-crore revenue. The average ticket per farmer is ₹25,000. So, farmers need not spend much on our products,” Agarwal said. 

It plans to increase its franchises to 450-500 this year and to have around 2,000 by 2025. The company’s director said the firm was concentrating on these four States as they are among the top 10 horticultural producers contributing 40-50 per cent of the country’s total production. 

Agri services from Aug

Despite local competition, the start-up’s products have been received well by farmers in all the four States where it is operating. Going forward, the company is looking to rent out agricultural machinery, while approaching banks and non-banking finance firms to provide loans to farmers. 

“We are also talking to a few companies for buying the produce of farmers. From August, we are stating our agricultural services, where farmers by making a phone call can get economic and farming advisories,” he said. 

GROWiT is coming up with a whole service platform on which if a farmer is not interested in buying the company’s products can avail of products they are interested in. For this, the start-up is coming up with a paid model service, the company’s director said.

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