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It helps at every point in culture operations

Rajamanohar Somasundaram who invented Artificial intelligence technologies to assist farmers, in a free-wheeling chat, talks about his innovative project ‘Aquaconnect’

Madhurima Dey | New Delhi |

Rajamanohar Somasundaram is an IIT Alumnus. He was conferred with the “Young Global Leader 2012” title by World Economic forum that uses Artificial intelligence technologies to positively impact the lives of 3000 “Aqua Farmers” in Coastal India

Shrimp and fish farming is a one of the biggest livelihood activity in the coastal regions of India. His organisation Aquaconnect created ‘FarmMOJO’, an Artificial intelligence (AI) enabled farm advisor tool. FarmMOJO built farm efficiency models and disease prediction model based on the historic data. The simple mobile application interface advices farmers based on the information such as water quality report, feed usage and health indicators of their pond. Thus the benefit of the high tech solution passed on to the farmers through the mobile phones.

Q) From where did you get the idea of creating the advisory tool,’FarmMOJO’?

A meeting with a shrimp farmer during my visit my home town in Tamil Nadu helped me to understand shrimp farming activities in Tamil Nadu and Andhra.

With further research, I learned that Aquaculture (growing shrimp and fish in ponds) in India has evolved as a viable commercial farming practice and has been showing an impressive annual growth rate of 10-15 per cent every year.

Though it is a multi-billion dollar industry, it still lacks the technology adoption and efficiency it is expected to have. Around one million rural farmers and coastal communities depend on shrimp and fish aquaculture, where the traditional farming practices prevents them in achieving production efficiency and diseases prediction.

With my team of co-founders and core team, we started Aquaconnect to encourage data-driven farming in Indian shrimp farming ecosystem. Our data driven marketplace helps shrimp farmers to connect with upstream and downstream supply chain in shrimp industry.

Q) Tell us what kind of problems you faced initially.

Initially, we did field research to understand the aqua farming challenges and its outcomes. Our team found offering a mobile app based solution that will help farmers to achieve sustainability and solve various challenges in aqua farming. We opted in for mobile app interface as most of the farmers have access to the smart phones and mobile data service.

However, launching a mobile app product is not as easy as it seems. We had several challenges – technology learning curve, language barriers. Steep learning curve exists in farmers and other ecosystem players to adopt new technology and initial adoption requires hand holding support for certain period. It often required continued workshops and awareness programmes to educate how to use the app to get the desired results.

Q) Could you tell us something in detail about how the device works?

FarmMOJO is a simple mobile application that provides advices based on the farm level information that farmers input into the app. It captures the farm level information, alerts the farmers at the critical junctures and advices them remedies for their problems.

Our AI advisor records production data such as water quality parameters, feed inputs and health status and biomass conversion. Collected data will be analysed on real time basis and offers advisory services to farmers regarding their pond operations. FarmMOJO understands the farmer’s needs inherently based on the input given by the farmer as well as the data captured by the IoT/Smart farm management platforms.

It alerts the farmers about parameters, which are not in optimal levels. For instance, it is important to ensure effective feed usage and biomass conversation, at any point MOJO observes poor Feed Conversion Ratio(FCR), it will suggests the necessary actions and relevant product should be used to normalise the pond environment to boosts FCR.

Likewise, it helps at every point in culture operations using artificial intelligence. It creates patterns using the collected data and gets intelligence on culture practices. With that it continues to offer personalised suggestions and advisory for farmers. Using Farm MOJO in farming operations results in improvement of diseases prediction, production efficiency, quality of the output and increased profits.

Q) How do you equip farmers with Artificial Intelligence Technologies?

Though the back end of our solution employs the complex Artificial intelligence technologies, our front end is as simple as Google. It just asks the farmers to input the farm data. Based on the past data and relevant AI models, it provides the right advices to the farmers over the mobile application.

We sensed a need for automating farm management, disease prediction through data sciences. Farm MOJO simplified such farm advisory solutions based on the machine learning. It deployed Artificial intelligence technologies to provide them real-time data driven decision making capabilities. It reduces the dependency on technicians in daily culture operations and reduces operational costs

Disease prediction in culture operations is critical value addition of FarmMOJO, where it alerts the farmers about the symptoms of diseases occurrence. It plays a vital role in effective diseases management. Adding to that, FarmMojo is location-aware, context-aware, it can offer relevant products at the right time and intervention and also effectively connects them with up-streams (processors, certifying bodies) and downstreams (inputs and healthcare) of the shrimp supply chain.

Q) Awareness is important for any kind of sustainable development. How do you and your team spread awareness among local farmers and fishermen about the significance of this initiative?

We understand awareness is a key factor in promoting sustainable aqua farming. We act like an integral partner to our farmers and conduct awareness programme and workshops on regular basis to give exposure on technology enabled modern farming. Also during initial phase, we deploy field assistants to give adequate training and exposure for farmers towards technology driven farming practices.

Sustainable development also needs collaboration between stakeholders in the eco-system. We partner with International sustainable trade organisations such as IDH sustainable trade Initiative and Solidaridad Network. Through the partnership, we are promoting sustainable production and traceability initiatives among farmers.

Also we work with Feed companies and processors to encourage the sustainable production and procurement of farmed shrimp and fish products.

Q) Is your tool cost friendly for small-scale farmers?

Yes, since we are offering subscription based mobile application. Farmers pay a subscription of Rs.500/pond/month for the mobile app and farm advisory service. We often waive the fee for small farmers with 1-2 ponds.

Q) What is your future plan with “Aqua Connect”?

Farm MOJO was launched with five farmers in April 2018. Currently more than 750 farmers are using the advisor tool to manage their ponds in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. We have partnered with 150 hatcheries who would supply post-larvae and fingerlings to the farmers. Also we partnered with 24 Feed producers and health care companies who sell about 92 products through our mobile application.

Q) Is your company ‘Aqua Connect’ planning to work with farmers of Bengal in near future?

Yes, we plan to expand our operations in West Bengal and Odisha by the end of 2019.