Krishitantra, a startup founded in Udupi and headquartered in Hyderabad, facilitates rapid and cost-effective soil testing for farmers.

Dr Vishnu Prasada Bhat co-founder and CTO and Sandeep Kondaji founder and CEO kneeling in a green field with the soil testing device in between themDr Vishnu Prasada Bhat (left) and Sandeep Kondaji
news Agriculture Tuesday, December 01, 2020 - 13:55

Sandeep Kondaji is an instrumentation engineer by qualification, but deep down in his heart, he always considered himself an agriculturist. A serial entrepreneur, Kondaji had established two successful ventures in Oman, but all he could think about was his agricultural lineage. “Every time I visited my ancestral village near Tumakuru district in Karnataka, I would hear stories about the land we had and all the crops we grew. Over time, most of my family members moved away from farming and migrated to other professions,” he said in a phone interview. 

In 2016, he sold his ventures in Oman and moved back to India in pursuit of his dream. What followed him was his entrepreneurial zeal. Instead of diving into agriculture, Kondaji found himself addressing a fundamental issue of the sector – soil health. Today, Sandeep Kondaji is the founder and CEO of Krishitantra, a social impact startup founded in Udupi and headquartered in Hyderabad, that facilitates rapid and cost-effective soil testing for farmers. 

A test gone bad 

Kondaji’s tryst with soil began as a chance encounter. After moving back to India, he spent six months with his uncle, an agriculturist, learning the ropes. “I also wanted to understand the challenges faced by farmers in the country. Incidentally, the very first challenge that I faced was with respect to soil testing,” he shared. Kondaji sent a soil sample for analysis to the nearest government lab, and even after following up, he did not get the right response. He finally managed to get the sample tested in a private lab in Bengaluru and ended up spending about Rs 1200. Through the rigmarole of testing, it became evident to the entrepreneur that soil analysis needed the right technological intervention. 

India has about 3887 soil-testing labs, but Kondaji's concern is timely analysis of the sample and interpretation of the results. "Farmers need to understand their soil before sowing the seeds. The test results need to be interpreted and fertiliser recommendations provided accordingly. What farmers get is just the result. This is like getting a blood report that says certain parameters are off. You need a doctor to look at the report and give you the right medication. It’s the same with soil health” he explained. He teamed up with his acquaintances Dr Vishnu Prasada Bhat (Co-founder & CTO) who holds a PhD in Electronics and Anand BR (Co-founder & COO), an IT professional with a keen interest in agriculture and hydroponics. 

Soil woes

In the last decade, India’s fertiliser usage has been reported to be around 500 lakh metric tonnes/per year. Additionally, farmers are not limited when it comes to the amount of fertilisers they can obtain. Kondaji explained that encouraged by incentives and the intent to improve yields, the soil is often over-fertilised. Not only do farmers end up spending more on the inputs, it also leads to soil and water pollution and impacts the overall yield. "There are established studies that show a significant deterioration in yield when the land is over-fertilised,” he added. 

Dr Jayant Kumar Saha, principal scientist & head of the environmental soil science division at the Indian Institute of Soil Science, Bhopal stated in an email interview that scientists recommend the use of fertilisers in such a way so as to supply plant nutrients in balance. “Apart from soil quality and crop productivity, indiscriminate application of nutrients through fertilisers may also lead to the aggravation of soil acidity, imbalance in nutrient supplying capacity of the soil, decline in soil biodiversity, and aggravation in soil salinity in marginal and degraded lands,” he explained. Although the extent of soil pollution in India is not clear, based on available data and the research carried out by his department, Dr Saha is confident that soil pollution is a significant concern in and around cities and industrial areas.

To address soil pollution, the Government of India introduced the Soil Health Card Scheme in the year 2014-15. The scheme aims to increase awareness among farmers about the status of their soil. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) also recommends a soil-test based integrated nutrient management approach, which includes both organic and inorganic nutrient sources. Considering the number of agriculturists in India and the varying practices within the country, Kondaji added that the government alone cannot be expected to provide the required facilities. "Krishitantra exists to bring that access and reliability aspect to soil testing, so it becomes an essential practice," he said. 

Krishi RASTAA

Having gained a strong understanding of the core issues, the Krishitantra team worked with scientists and researchers to come up with an ideal solution for soil testing, their goal being a rapid, robust, and easy to operate device. “Our universities have already worked on the basic aspects of soil testing. What we did was to add the right technology and ensure that the results translate to something meaningful,” said Kondaji. After two years of working on the concept and validating the product, the team launched Kirshi RASTAA – Rapid Automated Soil Test with Agronomy Advice, an IoT-based soil testing device in 2019. 

Krishi RASTAA is now present in 40 centres across 10 states. The startup works with micro-entrepreneurs and Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs). Farmers can bring their soil samples for analysis or request sample collection in the appropriate manner from their fields. At the centre, details pertaining to the sample like the acreage of the farm, crop type, language in which results are preferred, and parameters that are required to be analysed are entered. “Different crops require different nutrient dosage, so depending on the crop, one can select a nutrient profile,” explained Kondaji. The process is fully automated and capable of analysing soil components like nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, pH, electrical conductivity, and micronutrients like iron, zinc, boron, among others. Results are obtained within 30 minutes, and farmers receive an SMS in their language of choice. Based on the results, fertiliser recommendations are also provided. The total cost of one test for all 11 parameters is Rs 250. 

Back to basics  

Krishitantra has raised Rs 8 crore funding from agritech investors Nabventures – a subsidiary of NABARD, and Omnivore. The team hopes to expand their testing centres across the country, or as Kondaji frames it – from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. They are currently working on establishing 500 testing centres, a target they hope to achieve by March 2021. Additionally, they are also focusing on increasing their testing capacity from 800 to 1000 tests per day. For their efforts, Krishitantra has garnered various awards like the Special Mention award in the Agri/ Rural/ Social category at the 8th ISBA (Indian STEP And Business Incubator Association) awards conducted by the Indian Institute of Management - Kozhikode. Their testing centres have also generated employment in rural areas. 

More than 18,000 farmers have adopted the Krishi RASTAA technology, and Krishitantra’s recommendations have enabled farmers to reduce their input costs by 12-28%. The team also plans to look at yield metrics and gain a comprehensive understanding of their technology’s overall impact.

“Most importantly, farmers agree that this is the way to go. Farmers have been reluctant about soil testing even when test costs were low. It is time we change that mindset. After all, soil is now a limited resource," he said. The resource needs all the care we can give, and thanks to team Krishitantra, soil health is now a priority. 

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