Gujarat-based brother duo Akshay and Saurabh Agarwal founded GROWiT to provide innovative agri-tech solutions to increase farm output through protective farming. So far, the startup has catered to more than 20,000 farmers across the country.
Every year, farmer Rakesh Gundrashiya cultivates watermelons on 50-bigha land. For a fruitful crop, he would use plastic mulching sheets as protective covers to prevent the growth of weeds, regulate the moisture content and create a micro-climate. However, the plastic would often crack.
“The cracks in the cover would promote weed growth, and the scattered plastic would make soil infertile. We were forced to employ labourers to remove the plastic cover and end up spending more in the process,” the MSc graduate, who owns 200 bigha land in the Sinor village of Gujarat’s Vadodara district, tells The Better India.
However, his worry came to an end when three years ago, he switched to non-woven mulching crop cover.
“The non-woven cover is a good quality product. Even if the cover breaks, it does not cause any threat to the soil as it is eco-friendly. This saves us labour costs…at least Rs 250 per labourer per day,” informs the 35-year-old farmer.
Rakesh has been implementing protective farming practices using products from GROWiT — a Gujarat-based direct-to-farmer startup that aims to increase farm output through protective farming.
Behind the startup are Saurabh Agarwal and Akshay Agarwal who launched the agri-tech company in 2019 to help farmers increase crop yield. The brothers evolved from their family business of packaging to an agricultural-based company.
“We do not belong to an agricultural background, but agriculture always captivated us. Saurabh and I wanted to do something in this sector to help farmers,” Akshay, co-founder of GROWiT, tells The Better India.
Like Rakesh, the startup has catered to more than 20,000 farmers across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, and Odisha.
Finding agri-tech solutions to common farmer problems
Akshay, who hails from Surat, pursued his master’s degree in plastic engineering from the University of Massachusetts. In 2014, he moved back to India and started researching protective farming practices.
“India is an agricultural country. We found that in other countries, 70 to 80 percent of farmers are using the protective farming technique, whereas in India only 2 percent of farmers are using this,” he says.
“It was surprising for us that a country as big as India is not taking full advantage of this simple concept. That was one of the trigger points,” he adds.
According to the 31-year-old entrepreneur, protective farming is an agricultural practice where crops are grown in a controlled environment by regulating temperature, humidity, and moisture as per the crop’s growth. This helps enhance crop production by reducing the consumption of water, fertilisers, and pesticides. It further helps in preventing sunburn and weed growth and increasing the quality and quantity of farming products, resulting in better returns for farmers.
“The idea of protective farming is to reduce resources while increasing the yield. Think of a greenhouse; it controls the temperature and climate of the crop, but not every farmer can afford it. Whereas protective farming products create a micro-climate for the crop, providing similar results while cutting the cost down,” says Akshay.
He claims that his startup is the only company seeking protective farming and selling products directly to farmers as per their needs. “Generally, a supply chain functions wherein a manufacturer sells farming products to a distributor, who sells it to a retailer, who sells the product to the farmer. In this chain, the flow of information is negligible,” he says.
“That’s where our whole concept of D2F (direct-to-farmer) came about. We interact directly with our customers who are farmers. We found that they use a cheap quality product. We help them understand that they can buy a cheaper but good quality product that will have long-term benefits,” he informs.
Akshay believes in encouraging a sustainable agriculture ecosystem in the country. Along with his brother, he has collaborated with several state governments and Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) to expand the supply chain.
Their Shark Tank Success
GROWit manufactures products — such as mulch film, shade nets, sticky traps, vermi beds, and agri wires — that help optimise the farm yield.
Through its mobile application, it also guides farmers in climate-smart agriculture to enhance farm productivity. For instance, the application allows farmers to get information about the crop they grow, how to prepare the land, what the mandi (market) price is, and how to connect with an agriculture expert as well.
Recently, the startup was featured on Shark Tank India Season 2. The brothers closed the deal of Rs 50 lakh at 1 percent equity and Rs 50 lakh debt at 10 percent interest from the ‘sharks’ — Namita Thapar, the executive director of Emcure Pharmaceuticals and Peyush Bansal, CEO of Lenskart.
“From practising speeches to pitching ideas to the country and closing a deal, the Shark Tank experience was phenomenal. We closed the deal with a valuation of Rs 50 crore,” informs Akshay.
Last year, the brothers clocked sales of Rs 20 crore, and this year, they project sales of Rs 30 crore.
Edited by Pranita Bhat