Swasti Agro: A Farmer-Centric Social Venture

Swasti Agro| Bioproducts| Agriculture Solution Providers| agro services
Abhay Shendye | Founder | Swasti Agro

The Indian economy was largely dependent on agriculture until industrialization and globalization created an impact and changed the balance. While agriculture is still a major part of the economy and culture, the gradual shift is evident and increasing. Agriculture is critical, and the growing population to be fed keeps increasing the pressure, but the sector is facing a major crisis.  Depleting soil productivity, shrinking farmlands, dwindling labour, low profits are just some of the reasons for the growing unrest in the sector and farmers. These are giving rise to another national catastrophe, farmer suicide, which have been in the news since the 1990s and increasing. Latest reports suggest that on an average there are 10 cases of farmer suicides every day? While a lot is being done and said about it, the problem persists and the solution lies in changing the way the problem is being approached.

Solutions are All About the Right Approach

Proactive measures that revolve around the problems bringing on the crisis need to be taken with a farmer-centric approach. Pune-based Swasti Agro and Bioproducts Pvt Ltd believes that the majority of the problems of the farmers can be solved if the ecosystem adopts a farmer-centric approach and is working its part on it. As per the company, a big concern all over the globe is that affordability of farming activity is diminishing day by day. One single factor that can change this scenario is the mitigation of diseases of crops. Farmers do not have effective tools to prevent diseases of crops and they lose on an average of about 30% of the crop year on year. And if the season is bad this risk increases to over 90%. With a process loss risk of 30 -90%, any activity is deemed to be unsuccessful. A true farmer-centric approach requires products, services, and channels to evolve mechanism(s) that maximize the profitability of individual unorganized farmers spread out across the country.

Swasti’s Solutions

Swasti is a farmer-centric social venture developing innovative sustainable inputs, processes and channels. Swasti has developed products for the prevention of crop diseases. It also provides analysis based advice to farmers so that they can take learned decisions and save costs as well as crops. Several farmers in Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Gujarat have been using these products for the last 3 – 5 years. The company is now spreading its wings to Bihar and Nepal and has recently started its subsidiary in East Africa. Swasti’s technology is being patented in India as well as Africa.

The first product Swasti brought out was for prevention of bacterial blight of pomegranate. The farmers who coupled the use of preventive products with proper nutrition management could control the expression of this deadly disease very successfully.  Swasti has developed crop planning schedule for pomegranate based on climate, and advisory on nutrition and disease management. Now it has products for the prevention of diseases of vegetables caused by fungi, bacteria, and nematodes. Not only the products prevent diseases, but also promote the growth of plants thereby improving the productivity and profitability.  Swasti’s products broadly fall into the following categories:

Kitchen Garden

Where the Grass is truly Greener – Advantage Swasti

Prevention of diseases due to Swasti’s products results in farmers getting more yield. Moreover, the production is eco-friendly and uses a few toxic chemicals. Thus farmers – particularly those who can export the residue-free produce – are getting better rates for the produce. While assessing the prevalent condition in a particular farmer’s field the company advises the exact dosage of products even at the cost of losing some sale. Even if the suggested solution or product is unavailable with Swasti, it suggests other brand products that would work well as per the analysis. It runs two special programs too:
• Swasti’s three-pronged program “BioAvert I” gives preventive solutions in the form of blocking pathogen entry, increasing beneficial microbes and stimulating plant defense mechanism.
• The “HiFarm” services provide advise based on – Hyperspectral imaging, Field analysis techniques, root zone analysis and microscopy.

As a bonus, all of Swasti’s products are certified organic products – perfectly safe for humans, environment, and therefore can provide higher rates for the produce. This helps in generating a better return on investment for the farmers.

Re-fabricating the Social Structure

Swasti believes in dedicated R&D to develop products that create multiple impacts and strengthen the social fabric of the agrarian society. Recently, while commercializing the products for disease prevention, it conducted research on the nutrition of crops and particularly efficient and effective delivery of micronutrients. This patented product, during manufacturing, requires a waste material – ‘biogas slurry’ – from farmers. This new product is already making a huge impact on dairy and agriculture. Because of the win-win situation, farmers, as well as dairies, are interested in the processing. This improves the profitability for the dairy farmer, almost by three times, when compared with the selling of milk alone. Dairy cooperatives together can reach 70% of farmers in India. Each small farmer having 2 – 3 animals can get extra income up to Rs 6000 per month.

This also creates an opportunity for backward integration. When the dairy cooperative unit also engages itself in the backward integration and takes the product back to farmers, it will help many more farmers by providing a quality product at a reasonable cost. Swasti plans to support such backward integration activity with analysis based advice service for their farmers. Such an innovative farmer-centric channel will ensure that the money is generated and circulated within the farming community. Swasti trusts that this channel will establish very quickly and spread fast across the length and breadth of India, and deliver products for nutrition, disease prevention and many more other categories; strictly to be deployed based on learned advice. When this is achieved, Swasti believes it would have given back to the farming community, the support that was much desired.

Research – The Foundation

Creating a  comprehensive farmer-centric approach isn’t a one-man task, to begin with. While Dr Abhay Shendye, the founder of Swasti, started his journey towards inculcating farmer-centric approach in each employee and activity of the company, it took the backing from institutions, and buyers to realize the potential. Dr Abhay has been the backbone of the technology development and organization culture at Swasti. As a child, he would visit his grandfather’s fields and help milk cows or sow rice. This childhood activity led to a passionate love for agriculture that he later channeled into his company, Swasti. Under his guidance, the company has also developed an Android application ‘Happy Crop’ to support the implementation of plant healthcare.

More to Come

Swasti has been bestowed with several awards such as BIG and SBIRI (BIRAC). IIGP (DST), and Millennium Alliance (FICCI –USAID and DFID) have been a huge support for product development. Now the company is considering a different set of institutions as its partners to build unique backward integration channels. Besides institutional support, Swasti – as a team – has overcome difficult times with the support from friends, and family. Dr Abhay advises, “Any young entrepreneur who wants to venture in the agriculture sector should keep it in mind that the picture looks rosy, but meeting the two ends month on month is a daunting task. You need to have immense patience to even make a visible dent.”

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