1. Success Story

This Bihar Startup Helps Farmers Keep Veggies Fresh For Up To 30 Days Without Refrigeration

Saptkrishi, a startup in Bihar, founded by Nikky Kumar Jha and his younger sister, Rashmi Jha, have devised an IoT technology — the Sabjikothi — which is helping farmers store their produce for longer while also keeping them fresh.

Ayushi Raina
Bihar Startup Helps Farmers Keep Veggies Fresh For Up To 30 Days
Bihar Startup Helps Farmers Keep Veggies Fresh For Up To 30 Days

Despite the fact that India is one of the world's largest producers of fruits and vegetables, our per capita availability is poor since post-harvest losses account for around 30% of total production. These crops require suitable cold storage facilities to extend their shelf life.

These facilities enable farmers to preserve their produce while also allowing them to sell at the right price. However, constructing this type of infrastructure requires significant amount of money, power, and considerable logistics. 

Nikky Kumar Jha recalls growing up in the village of Naya Tola Dudhela in the Bhagalpur district of Bihar, where farmers cultivating horticulture crops would squander nearly a third of their produce due to lack of adequate storage facilities and electricity. 

He developed an off-grid cold storage device as part of his MSc dissertation in Ecology and Environment Studies from Nalanda University, taking into account the situation of electricity supply in Bihar and the post-harvest wastage he witnessed his entire life, particularly for horticulture goods. 

"However, the device had a defect. During the monsoon season, it failed to work. I was little worried about this and discussed the matter at home.  Rashmi Jha, a biotechnologist, told me during a family dinner in 2018 that I was doing the same thing as others by creating a device that delivers artificial cooling. Instead, she proposed that I create a device for preserving fruits and vegetables. That specific point about increasing the shelf life of farmer produce without using refrigeration resonated with me. "After this conversation, both my sister and I did research on the subject," Nikky recalls. 

Today, the 25-year-old entrepreneur and his younger sister, Rashmi Jha, run Saptkrishi, a firm that has created a unique storage device to overcome these shortcomings. Sabjikothi, a tent-like structure, is said to be capable of extending the shelf life of fruits and vegetables from 3 to 30 days without resorting to any refrigeration. 

All this IoT-enabled storage device requires is 10 watts of electricity, either on or off the grid, and a liter of water every day. It saves farmers 30% of their horticultural crops, which often go to waste due to a lack of proper storage, while also saving them a significant amount of electricity since it runs on a small lead-acid battery that generates 10 watts every day. This self-assembled storage device may be transported on a thela (a basic wooden cart), an e-rickshaw, or even a truck.  

So, how does this IIT-Kanpur-incubated startup's Sabjikothi work? 

No refrigeration needed 

According to Nikky Jha, "Sabjikothi enhances the shelf life of perishable horticulture goods by constructing a high-humid and sterile enclosed chamber." This chamber is incorporated with high-end technology that inhibits pathogens as well as the rate of respiration of fruits and vegetables, therefore preventing ethylene biosynthesis, which is responsible for perishability. It oxidizes ethylene into small molecules, delaying browning and ripening while also controlling the antioxidant enzyme's activity.  

The Sabjikothi's regulated microclimate enables for the preservation of fruits and vegetables between 3 to 30 days. It works on the concept of ethylene degradation, which is responsible for the perishability of fruits and vegetables. Sabjikothi comes up with the new notion of combining storage and transportation solutions into a single unit while preserving it through ethylene-degradation. 

"We conducted extensive research on the various sorts of microenvironments required by fruits and vegetables.  To address these discrepancies, we added a regulator that can alter the microenvironment within the storage device based on the crops stored. We've also made adjustments for varied microenvironments, in which a farmer can deposit a variety of fruits and vegetables such as bananas, apples, cabbages, and oranges. However, the shelf-life of this produce set may not be as long as if you stored simply apples, bananas, or tomatoes separately. This is due to the fact that the microenvironment will be tailored exclusively for apples or tomatoes. "There's also the IoT-enabled feature," he adds. 

The Sabjikothi is a tent-like self-assembled structure. There are four stands holding the storage device which comes in three variants. They can store up to 200 kg, 500 kg and 1,000 kg and per unit they cost Rs.10000, Rs.20000 and Rs.40000 respectively. 

Addressing a Massive Market Gap 

In the horticulture produce market there is a massive gap between no storage and cold storage, which implies that many farmers have access to either the latter or nothing. According to the National Centre for Cold Chain Development (NCCD), there is a 126 lakh tonnes capacity shortfall. But what if there was a viable alternative to massive cold storage facilities for individual farmers, traders, and other supply chain participants? 

Sabjikothi does not require artificial cooling to preserve vegetables and fruits, and Nikky believes that this technology will benefit small and marginal farmers the most. 

"Because we're producing a high humid condition inside, our system ensures no weight loss. There are no pathogenic attacks within our storage device, thus you will receive sterile food and vegetables. This has health benefits for the end user as well since the food is sterile and prevents the growth of E.coli and other bacteria on the surface of these fruits and vegetables," Nikky explains. 

In addition to eliminating post-harvest waste by more than 30%, he claims that even the smallest 200 kg Sabjikothi variant may help prevent up to 1,876 kg of CO2 emissions every year, which is equivalent to planting 60 trees"If the remaining 30% is squandered, it will produce methane, which will enter the atmosphere and eventually react with oxygen to make additional CO2. You'll also save a great deal of electricity as compared to refrigerators or other cold storage devices. That has a significant impact," he adds. 

The Business Model 

Saptkrishi is now offering Sabjikothis in groups of ten. They want to lower the cost of maintenance of their electrical and mechanical components as they're a young startup which was incorporated in March 2019 and not flush with revenue. 

"Instead of dispatching our engineers to fix a single Sabjikothi unit in a remote corner of the country, we intend to dispatch them to a location where there is a cluster of ten units that require fixing, maintenance, or servicing. As a result, we are not currently selling this to individual farmers. We will transition to selling to individual farmers once we have successfully established our business on the ground by selling to several clusters. We manufacture the Sabjikothis in Bhagalpur, Bihar, with technological assistance from IIT-Patna and Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology in Jammu," he said. 

Furthermore, Saptkrishi is attempting to eliminate mandi middlemen to some extent by empowering micro-entrepreneurs and other small enterprises to acquire products from farmers digitally at a fair price via the Saptkrishi app and then sell directly to customers. At the moment, the Bihar-based startup is establishing a network of micro-entrepreneurs in cities such as Bhagalpur, Patna, and Kanpur. 

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