Turning a new leaf

Budding techpreneurs Farish Anfal and Calvin Aranha have integrated AI into hydroponic farms through their start-up Krop AI
Calvin Aranha (left) and Farish Anfal
Calvin Aranha (left) and Farish Anfal

UDUPI: With monsoons becoming unpredictable in recent years, farmers remain anxious about their yield from sowing until they harvest their crop. With traditional farming methods becoming increasingly difficult in recent days owing to global warming coupled with other factors like loss of soil nutrients, two mechatronics engineers from Udupi are on a mission to take agriculture back to its heyday.

Farish Anfal and Calvin Aranha, both 26 years old, are budding techpreneurs who have integrated Artificial Intelligence (AI) into hydroponic farms through their start-up company, Krop AI. They started Krop AI in 2021 as a startup agritech company based out of Brahmavara in Udupi district. Over the last three years, the duo has done extensive research on solving problems in food technology and climate change using technology.

In their initial days as students at the Mangalore Institute of Technology and Engineering (MITE) in Moodabidri, Dakshina Kannada, they understood that their USP is agritech. They started working on a prototype, and soon research and development activities gained momentum, and they wasted no time in launching Krop AI. It was Farish’s experience running a B2B seafood supply chain company in the past that helped him launch Krop AI with Calvin as co-founder.

On how the exotic crops are grown in the farm setup, Calvin explains that the PCB is connected to various sensors like pH, water conductivity, air temperature, humidity, and the HVAC system. It processes all the data collected and works in an ideal environment suitable for the plants. This means that for a particular plant, based on software inputs, the system irrigates and maintains temperature, humidity, and all other parameters. Meanwhile, grow lights mimic sunlight, but emit the exact wavelengths required for plant growth, nutrition, and flowering. An ideal plant requires light wavelengths between 600 and 700 nm for photosynthesis. For human eyes, they look purplish blue in colour.

Calvin says that they use AI to control climate and irrigation to grow crops indoors. Compared to traditional farming methods, the AI-enabled hydroponic farming method saves 95% of water because it is reused. ‘‘Currently, we are depending on imported material. But our future plan is to design and have a farm that is free of any imported items,” Calvin adds. On their farm, they have grown exotic crops, including lettuce, kale and parsley. They are aiming to grow Belgian berries this year by partnering with an agricultural firm based in the US, taking advice from experts in the UK.

Krop AI won the Karnataka Government’s Idea2POC/Elevate/2023 grant in the biotech sector, and the company is incubated with the AIC Nitte incubation centre under the Startup India scheme. On the business side of Krop AI, Calvin says a sales turnover of Rs 50 lakh has already been made, and now the aim is to reach out to more agri-entrepreneurs in the region to help them set up a similar AI-controlled indoor farm. ‘‘We already have with us three clients, and we will be readying AI-controlled indoor farms for them,” Calvin adds.

Regarding the market prospects for exotic leafy greens like lettuce, kale parsley and Belgian berries, he says that currently quick service restaurants (QSRs) are sourcing such produce through their contract farmers in North India. But in future, they may like to source it from their neighbourhood to ensure freshness of the produce, he adds. Krop AI will also start growing saffron in the coming months, Calvin adds.

Initially, the duo had invested Rs 35 lakh to set up their business, and Calvin now says the investment to set up an AI-controlled indoor farm can be brought down by half as their company has done a lot of R&D during the process to ensure a cost reduction.

Dolphi Pius Mascarenhas, a shareholder and advisor to Krop AI, tells The New Sunday Express that the two young engineers have good insights on integrating AI into hydroponic farming, and so he decided to invest and nurture their caliber. Rohith Bhat, who founded Robosoft and is currently the president of TiE- Mangaluru Chapter, says Farish and Calvin have shown the path ahead for others to come up with an entrepreneurial mindset and innovative ideas. ‘‘We want to see more startup companies in coastal Karnataka. So we support entrepreneurs by offering education, mentorship, networking, and funding opportunities to them,” he adds.

Shylaja Rao, treasurer, TiE, Mangaluru Chapter, says they were impressed by Farish and Calvin. ‘‘As our effort is to make Udupi and Mangaluru the IT hubs in the near future, entrepreneurs like Farish and Calvin are the catalysts on that front. We are excited as they are integrating AI into farming practices. Their company will surely scale up and grow,” she says.

Calvin Aranha and Farish Anfal built their own pipes to grow crop vertically, printed circuit boards (PCB) and software. At the vertical farm of Krop AI in Brahmavara, one would be surprised to see exotic plants growing vertically in the tall pipes with water drippers placed at the top and special spectrum lights used to simulate sunlight for crop growth.

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