Swedish green-tech engineering firm Spowdi, which has joined hands with India’s Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) to scale up smart farming among women, has “several more” plans in the pipeline for the Indian subcontinent, said Henrik Johansson, the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO). “Spowdi will be at COP28 in a few weeks (November 30-December 12) from now to share our vision towards a sustainable and resilient food production system. Spowdi has also been putting in a lot of resources towards making small-hold farming smarter, and you will hear more very soon,” he said in an email interaction with businessline.

 Henrik Johansson, Spowdi Chief Executive Officer

 Henrik Johansson, Spowdi Chief Executive Officer

WEF Top Innovator Award

Recently, the Swedish firm won the World Economic Forum’s UpLink Challenge Top Innovator award, which Johansson said was “an understanding and acknowledgment of the need for innovation to make the necessary changes that have been positioned as the UN Sustainability Goals”.

Spowdi’s collaboration SEWA has evolved significantly, particularly through the Water Drop Initiative. “The partnership has progressed in two phases, and after the completion of the initial phase, we signed a five-year agreement (under India-Sweden energy and environment partnership) to introduce smart farming techniques to tens of thousands of women small-hold farmers in India,” he said. SEWA is the world’s largest association of informal workers, with 2.5 million women as members across India. Women comprise about 50 per cent of the farming workforce and the FAO estimates that should women have the access to the same resources as men, they can increase food production by 20-30 per cent, thereby lifting 150 million people out of hunger, Johansson said. 

By engaging with “the SEWA sisters’ Spowdi is tapping into a pool of potential women entrepreneurs who can not only adopt smart farming practices to increase their yield but also play an active role transforming small-hold farming to tens of thousands of others, the company’s CEO said.

Pact with Jaljeevika

Spowdi, which entered the Indian market in 2019, recently signed an agreement with Jaljeevika, which has a strong footprint of niche development work in India, and a mission to support one million aquatic producers to create inclusive rural economies and achieve food sovereignty by 2023.

“The interest in Spowdi smart farming has been immense. Our technology has been validated by the National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE), and in June this year, the Spowdi Smart Farm concept was set up at NISE, to showcase smart farming to institutional stakeholders, universities and farming communities,” he said.

With 150 million small-holding farmers, India is a crucial market for Spowdi. “It also serves the gap in the market, as there is no other technology that is mobile, off-grid, enabling farmers to increase food production and use up to 80 per cent less water that is typically used in flood irrigation,” said the company’s CEO. 

Also, the technology has been built to survive even in harsh climatic conditions. Since the technology has no moving parts, it can be used even if the waterbody is muddy or has gravel, he said.

Improving productivity

On the challenges to propagate smart farming, Johansson said small-holder farmers are crucial stakeholders in the food production, producing 30 per cent of the global food. “But they lack access to resources and green technologies to lower dependencies on fossil fuels, lower water stress and improve productivity. They are also among the first to be impacted by climate change and depleting water tables in food-producing regions,” he said. 

These factors make small-hold farming increasingly unprofitable, thereby impacting communities and livelihoods, leading to mass migration, turning food producers into casual labourers, and making the global food production chain more volatile, he said. “At Spowdi, we view small-hold farmers as the impact generators. Without them, even if we have great innovations, nothing will happen. There will be no transformation. So now it’s time to come together and give these business women and business men access to great technology, on fair terms,” the company’s CEO said. 

Validation of firm’s tech

The Swedish firm encourages financial institutions — global, regional and local, to provide these impact generators a kick-start — a fair deal by which they can grow their business and execute impact for the benefit of us all. “We are ready to partner up and welcome policy makers, financial institutions and impact investors to come onboard,” he said.

On winning the WEF’s UpLink Challenge Top Innovator award, Johansson said it was a validation of Spowdi’s technology and smart farming concept, which enables small-hold farmers to grow more food, using significantly less water. At the same time, it makes  a real impact on the ground, which is to improve livelihoods, achieve food sovereignty and contribute to a more sustainable and resilient food production system. “Our innovation and smart farming concept tick-marks all the boxes (the Work Economic Forum’s Uplink Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge was looking for),” he said.