Agriculture is the most important sector of the Indian economy contributing around 16% to GDP and providing employment to 60% of the population. Being a farmer in India is, however, very challenging due to a variety of reasons. These include the risk of crops being attacked by pests, delayed monsoon, moneylenders who have monopolized agricultural credit and middlemen paying a poor price to farmers for their produce, just to name a few. A German startup called Plantix saw an opportunity in these challenges. It is working closely with millions of Indian smallholder farmers, helping them to improve crop health as well as finding the right inputs to grow crops using advanced technology. The startup uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify plant diseases, pests and nutrient deficiencies.
Plantix, was founded in 2015 by the seven founders Alexander Kennepohl, Charlotte Schumann, Simone Strey, Pierre Munzel, Robert Strey, Bianca Kummer and Korbinian Hartberger. In 2016, Plantix participated in the Merck Accelerator program and subsequently raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Atlantic Labs and other investors. It also won the prestigious CEBIT innovation award and the World Summit Award by the UN. Their journey in India began together with International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), which has its global headquarter in Hyderabad. They rolled out Plantix, a free Smartphone App for farmers in South India and adapted it continuously to the other regions of the country.
The App provides automatic image recognition for plant diseases and is able to identify about 400 damages on 60 different crops. The utilization of the app is very easy: the farmer needs to download the App, then take a photo of the crop with their smartphone and the software identifies the problem. Plantix then gives recommendations and support to find the right product if a disease is detected. The app empowers farmers to take informed decisions on their disease management – improving the crop yield and the amount of pesticides used. It is a B2C App which is available 24X7. The App also offers several other features like facilitating exchange within the agricultural community, crop advisory and post-harvest information.
Today, the Plantix app has 25 million downloads in India, and more than 10 million use the App on an annual basis. The App is available in 18 different languages out of which 10 are regional Indian languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, and Marathi, among others. According to Co-Founder Bianca Kummer “Plantix focuses on a progressive approach to solve agricultural and environmental issues and addressing them with cutting-edge technology”.
It took almost 2 years to set up a subsidiary in India with extensive travels. The company employs 100 people in India, more than its office in Berlin. The main reasons for coming to India was the market potential as well as number of smartphone users and low data prices. Bianca mentions that “There is a good opportunity in the Indian market. However, tapping into this potential requires a long-term approach. Whenever you think, you have overcome one obstacle, there comes another one. It is crucial to build partnerships and create a social network in India as a startup”.
Along with other Indian agricultural universities and research institutions like Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), Plantix was able to introduce scalable and affordable solutions tailor made to the Indian market. Bianca says “Developing local products and solutions is the key. We are constantly adding new services to our portfolio”.
The company is also supporting the farmers to tackle the inefficiencies in the agriculture purchase supply chain. “With more than 30,000 retailers, we have built the biggest network of agri-input retail shops in India and have connected farmers and the retailers free of cost,” Bianca says.
In the beginning of 2020, Plantix merged with another Indian startup Salesbee, based out of Indore, to strengthen their activities in the agricultural purchase vertical. This has helped the company to approach producers, purchase in bulk, and supply quality agricultural input products like seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides to retail shops.
Besides, Plantix also works together with agro-chemical companies as these large companies have a big interest in the data acquired through the image recognition.
The plan ahead is to scale up further not only in India but also in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan. Plantix wants to add more users in the coming months. The startup has set its mission towards making agriculture more sustainable in India while increasing yields and incomes for smallholder farmers.
You can visit Plantix website to get more information: www.plantix.net