Emerging Entrepreneurs

When shrimp farming goes hi-tech

R Balaji | Updated on October 28, 2019 Published on October 28, 2019

Aquaconnect’s mobile app FarmMOJO uses data from farms to apply machine learning to tackle two major issues of shrimp farming — feed efficiency and disease management   -  istock.com/duybox

Aquaconnect brings machine learning to enhance efficiency in operations

Aquaconnect, a start-up that brings machine learning tools to streamline operations and enhance efficiency in shrimp farming, is taking a page out of the telecom sector experience – good technology can be offered cheap, even free, if there are enough volumes. Money will come from value added services.

Rajamanohar S, CEO of Aquaconnect, who has experience in the mobile communications and technology sector, says it was serendipity that put him in touch with a shrimp farmer, Sanjaikumar, who shared with him insights on the aquaculture industry’s needs.

Much like an agriculturist, an aquaculturist, or shrimp farmer, uses seeds – shrimp seeds from hatcheries – to grow a crop over a few months and sell it in the market. But equally, shrimp farmers are set in their ways. Over the last couple of decades, there has been little by way of technology adoption, he says.

Can you believe, Rajamanohar asks, that an activity that contributes 70 per cent to India’s $7-billion seafood exports has done little to adopt modern technology.

A major livelihood

Shrimp farming is a major source of livelihood in the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal and, on the west coast, in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Except possibly for some auto feeders, there is little modern technology involved, he says.

With his tech background, Rajamanohar is confident that machine learning (ML) can be adapted to shrimp farming to enhance efficiency and output and augment income. With adequate data from the shrimp pond, field and crop, the process of raising shrimps can be streamlined to achieve more yield and income.

But that is just one aspect. Here is where his experience in telecom gives a hand, he says.

Rajamanohar S, CEO of Aquaconnect R Balaji   -  R Balaji

 

Given adequate volumes this technology tool can be delivered free to the farmer while value added services will generate revenue for the start-up. His ambition is to grow Aquaconnect into a one-stop-shop for shrimp farming, as a facilitator of inputs, financial services, processing and marketing.

Aquaconnect’s tech platform FarmMOJO, the farm advisor mobile app, uses data from farms to apply ML to tackle two major issues of shrimp farming — feed efficiency and disease management. Farmers have to keep an eye on factors such as water quality, feeding pattern, growth – measured in feed conversion ratio (FCR) — and shrimp health, he says. The biggest expense is feed. To enhance efficiency here, Aquaconnect has developed a solution, and major gains can be achieved.

Farmers often think more feed means more shrimp, a popular misconception. It is important they understand that overfeeding can result in water quality deterioration, shrimp mortality and yield loss.

A shrimp farmer typically spends about ₹9 lakh on a one-acre pond during a crop cycle. Of that, 70 per cent goes to feed. Normally, 1.4 kg of feed is converted to 1 kg of shrimps. If that FCR is enhanced to 1.2 kg, which Aquaconnect has done, the saving is about ₹40,000 a month.

The start-up has ‘more or less’ got its feed efficiency model right, says Rajamanohar.

How does it work?

With detailed data collection using the technology platform FarmMOJO, a regimen for feeding has been formulated to help the farmer deliver just the right amount of feed for optimal growth.

For disease management, it has to gather a few more years of data, he says. But for that he needs more farmers to get on board and that would help with generation of more data.

 

Aquaconnect has partnered with IDH, a sustainable trade body of the Netherlands government, and with Kenton Morgan, a professor at the University of Liverpool, to develop an epidemiological framework for the Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool used to make recommendations to the farmer to tackle a specific issue.

The idea is to create a regimen that ensures at least 80 per cent survival of shrimps to the harvest stage (it is 60 per cent now); FCR of 1.2 feed; compliance on antibiotics; and ensuring output in excess of 3 tonnes.

In 2017, Aquaconnect started with 50 farmers. It now has over 3,500 in its fold. In 2018, its revenue was ₹2.85 crore. It is now time to scale up, feels Rajamanohar.

Aquaconnect hopes to spread its network to more production centres. It is present in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat and is in the process of putting up operations in Odisha and Indonesia. It hopes to have seven clusters offering on-ground support to farmers, he says.

Digital Assistant

A technician, or ‘Digital Assistant’, will be available in the field along with an assistant and a runner, who will be responsible for 100 shrimp ponds. A typical shrimp pond can be of about one acre or more. Six such digital assistants will form a cluster of 600 ponds.

The field staff will be responsible for data collection from the ponds, including basic numbers such as size of pond and other parameters such as tracking water quality, FCR, survival and growth of shrimps and taking samples. When needed, the samples will be passed on to laboratories with which Aquaconnect has tied up. Based on the data from the lab results, the ML tool will recommend ways to restore water quality and inputs that are needed for remediation.

Here again, Aquaconnect can organise the inputs at competitive rates by bringing sellers and farmers together on the platform. That is a major source of income for the start-up. The point here is that apart from generating jobs in the field, the start-up generates business for existing laboratories and products and services suppliers.

Aquaconnect now has a staff strength of about 20; by the year-end it will go up to 70.

Tie-ups on the cards

In the pipeline are tie-ups with financial institutions and insurance companies which need more data to get into the act. So far, Aquaconnect has seen four full crop cycles but three more years of data will be needed to generate a database adequate enough to instil confidence in banks and insurance companies to extend cover, he feels.

Shrimp farmers now can shell out up to 60 per cent interest on an annualised basis. Bank support will help reduce the burden. The kind of detailed and verifiable data that Aquaconnect generates can help financial institutions support this business, he feels.

With this kind of organised database, there are also marketing implications. For instance, major buyers abroad look for traceability of stocks as part of quality assurance. Aquaconnect’s data can cover this also as it is authentic production data from the field.

 

Published on October 28, 2019
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.