Raghu D from Sarjapur in Karnataka follows sericulture farming, which involves rearing silkworms to produce silk. From 2011 up until the past year, he had been following traditional methods sincerely, and was selling silk in the market, located in Kolar and Ramanagara, around 50-70 km away from his native area.
However, recently, he began employing various technological interventions on his farm, which have increased his income by 25%, while reducing investment costs. “The changes adopted consistently earn Rs 90,000 to Rs 1 lakh a month, against the Rs 50,000 to 70,000 I was earning without using modern methods,” he tells The Better India.
This has been because of Reshamandi, a startup that helps sericulture farmers improve the yield and quality of silk using artificial intelligence, cloud platforms and sensors, all boxed in a portable device. These technological interventions have helped 5,500 farmers across Karnataka increase their income by almost 30% and ensure steady profits from the market.
Chalking a tech-route for silk
Mayank Tiwari, co-founder and CEO of the startup, says the idea struck him after he realised the various challenges being faced by farmers. “I graduated from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in 2007, and spent over a decade working with artisans, handloom weavers and textile workers. I saw how farmers were suffering from market linkages, crop failures and ensuring consistent quality in production, among others,” he says.
After working in various areas, Mayank narrowed his attention to silk farmers to help them earn better income using technology. “India is the largest producer of silk after China, and employs approximately 8.25 million people in rural and semi-urban areas. Though it is a big sector, farmers continue to follow traditional methods that do not optimise the yield and quality of silk. Very often, Indian silk is mixed with Chinese silk to compensate for the quality. But adopting scientific methods can help farmers, as the sericulture sector remains an unattended zone,” he adds.
Mayank and his partners, Saurabh Agarwal and Utkarsh Apoorva, developed software and devices that would assist the farmers in achieving high quality silk, and launched ReshaMandi in 2020.
“The aim is to standardise and revolutionise operations of the silk industry. We are doing it by using self-developed technology and application that involves AI-tested quality inputs, IoT-led advisories, and near-proximity output linkages,” he says, adding that the startup also works on-ground with farmers at all levels.
Mayank says the startup is a 360-degree solution for farmers, as it engages with stakeholders in the industry such as weavers, reelers, farmers and the government to get the best outcome for them.
Mayank says the device works at two levels – the mulberry plantation, and the silkworm rearing stage.
“Silkworms consume mulberry plants, whose leaves need to be of a certain quality at each stage of growth. The device sensors placed at the plantation collect data regarding the ph value of soil, moisture content, and other parameters. The information is sent on a cloud-based server that processes data and guides the farmers to ensure optimum irrigation and maintain the growth of the plant,” Mayank says, adding, “The exercise ensures growing quality leaves on which the silkworms feed, which translates into healthier growth.”
Another device is fitted near the rearing beds. It mainly monitors four parameters – light, air quality, humidity, and temperature. “The sensors gather data and trigger instructions to farmers to maintain optimum conditions for the best growth of the silkworms until they reach the cocoon stage, a cycle that lasts about a month,” he adds.
Mayank says both the devices work like plug-and-play and are connected with a cell phone app installed on a farmer’s smartphone. The app guides them via notifications. “The sensors work round the clock, and if the farmer fails to take necessary and timely steps, warnings are issued, or phone calls are made to follow-up,” he adds.
The notifications and advisory are customised, catering to the needs of each farmer. “For example, sometimes a need may arise to reduce the humidity of the room, and in such cases, notification of switching on the dehumidifier is issued. However, not all farmers have a robust infrastructure, and in such cases, simple suggestions like opening the windows for a certain time duration are made,” Mayank says.
Information of each farmer is collected during the registration process to customise the system accordingly.
The device further helps prevent infection rates by 80%. “We also provide market linkages and ensure a steady rate for the produce,” Mayank adds.
Mayank says the technology is accessible to farmers on a subscription basis. “Farmers pay Rs 1,000 a month for the services and can end the subscription at any point, just like Netflix,” he says.
Better yield and sustainability
He adds that technological interventions at every stage help improve the yield by 15-20% and increase income by Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 per acre. “So far, the platform has helped farmers sell 3 lakh kilos of silk worth Rs 15 crore, and save the hassle of going to the markets,” he says.
Meanwhile, Raghu says he became acquainted with ReshaMandi through word of mouth from farmers in the area, after a centre was set up in Sarjapur. “Earlier, I estimated the irrigation needs of mulberry plants by personal judgement. But receiving guidance and instructions through the device helped me save water considerably and increase the yield,” Raghu says.
He adds that he reaps 1 kilo of silk in return for 6 kilos of cocoons. He required 8 kilos of cocoons to achieve the same amount of yield. “It means I am getting more silk from each cocoon through the efficient and streamlined system,” he says.
Raghu says that like many farmers in the neighbourhood, he, too, felt sceptical about banking on the technology. “It was difficult to comprehend how technology could improve the quality of silk and yield. But after a few positive feedback from a few farmers, I signed up,” he adds.
Aswatha Reddy is another farmer from Bendiganahalli village who has been rearing silkworms for 20 years. “Earlier, I travelled 50-70 km in search of a better market to sell the silk. However, the distance has reduced to 12 km radius now with the new market set up by the startup,” he says.
Aswatha says the prices offered by the government fluctuate for each batch for selling silk. But he receives a better and fixed price for his silk yield by channelling it through the startup. “I earn Rs 325 per kilo as against Rs 270 or Rs 300 that I was receiving from the government markets. I hope to increase the income further in the coming months,” he adds.
Additionally, the startup is also making the process sustainable by focusing on waste management in the following manner.
- Poor quality or remains of the cocoons act as raw material to be woven into a fabric and finally into sustainable packaging, grocery handbags, etc.
- Silk sericin – This is a natural polymer produced by silkworms, which finds value in the pharmaceutical and beauty industry.
- Aquafeed – The cocoons are also used as feed in aquaculture for fish.
- Mulberry twigs- The chemical extract from the twigs of mulberry is used in the pharmaceutical industry.
Mayank says the company aims to expand outside Karnataka in the coming months and boost the economy of silk. “India has a huge potential, and we aim to reduce its dependency on China by creating quality silk within the country,” he adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu