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Aquaconnect: Enabling a Market Place for Aqua Farmers in India

By Ridwan Sifat

· Asia,Environment,Technology,Agriculture

Rajamanohar Somasundaram is a serial technology entrepreneur with a vast experience in building Internet and mobile technology driven businesses. It was in a train ride to his hometown that he met Sanjai Kumar who went on to become his friend and business partner in an initiative now called as Aquaconnect.

Sanjai is an aqua farmer. Put simply, he is a farmer who grows shrimps and other aquatic organisms especially for food. Aquaculture is a well-known livelihood activity within the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra in India. Unfortunately, small-scale aqua farmers are often easily exploited by middlemen and therefore are unable to get a fair value for their harvest. This is because of their lack of awareness and access to information about market rates and export trends. The situations that small scale farmers like him go through prompted Sanjai to seek opportunities to push for sustainable aquaculture farming practices in India.

Eager to give a solution to this problem, Rajamanohar spent the next two months at numerous aquaculture farms in South India to know how they could create an exchange that helps farmers directly connect with each other, with hatcheries (units that breed small shrimps), with input manufacturers (units that manufacture feeds, chemicals, probiotics), and with exporters.

Rajamanohar together with Sanjai, and Shanmugha Sundara Raj, a banker turned entrepreneur, established Aquaconnect.

Sanjai at the field of Aquaconnect.

Photo from Aquaconnect

Aquaconnect is a flag-ship initiative of Coastal Aquaculture Research Institute (CARI) - an independent research agency that aims to promote sustainability through research, training, education and outreach programmes for aqua farmers and hatcheries. They aim to champion the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and to support aqua farming communities on sustainability goals, technology transfer, and training.

They also help hatcheries to plan their hatching cycle based on the information provided by an advanced data analytics service.

Aquaculture intensification has the potential to produce the fish and shrimps needed to meet the demand for safe and highly nutritious food by a growing population.

Activities of Aquaconnect

Aquaconnect’s main plan is to make an omni-channel marketplace where farmers can buy seeds, inputs like feeds and probiotics, and find the exporters for their manufacture for a good value. They also aim to overcome the present lack of awareness to necessary information that is prevailing within the aquaculture system.

The idea is three fold:

  • Locating quality seeds for the aqua farmers;
  • Procuring all the inputs for the culture at optimum rates and
  • Making a transparent marketplace for their harvest by connecting them to the exporters.

Aquaconnect team on the field.

Photo from Aquaconnect

Aquaconnect enables access and connection with all the other stakeholders through:

  • On-field analysts and business experts who provide technical guidance to the aqua farmers on sustainable aquafarming practices. They also run a postcard magazine to distribute such information.
     
  • They operate a toll-free number 1800 123 1263 for the farmers to contact in numerous Indian languages including Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English. This keeps the farmers updated with current price trends, new innovations within the field, and connect them with quality hatcheries, input manufacturers, and exporters.
     
  • The Aqua Locate app uses industry standard cloud-hosted solution architecture using some of the most advanced mobile technology. Hatcheries and input manufacturers will be able to set up their hatching and production and distribution cycles respectively, based on the demand and provide forecasts. The app’s location-based analytics will help exporters to achieve product traceability and quickly manage their supply chains. Exporters can plan their purchases for the season and get the harvest details at the right time.

Shrimps harvested at Aquaconnect field.

Photo from Aquaconnect

Challenges and hopes for the future

The high dependence on middlemen and informal sources of finance is one of Aquaconnect’s biggest problems. Gaining visibility and quality in such a situation is grueling. Their approach to mitigate this challenge was to work closely with the aqua farmers and to include them in the day to day work.

At present, more than 600 farmers are listed and have benefited from the initiative. Aquaconnect is presently operating a call center alongside six on-field research analysts to impart technical information to the farmers. They have so far closed sixty deals with the exporters enormously increasing their margin of profit from the culture.

Aquaconnect plans to expand its operations to the rest of the coastal regions of India beginning with Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal and further extending to Kerala, Haryana, and Orissa within the next three years.

They are also planning an intervention into the culture stage through launching an e-commerce portal for the purchase of feeds, chemicals, nutrients, and probiotics. They will be educating farmers to work with the portal.

Aquaconnect team on the field.

Photo from Aquaconnect

Sponsorships and partnerships

Aquaconnect is incubated at the Technology Business Incubator (TBI) of the University of Madras, Tamil Nadu, India. They are also a part of the prestigious NASSCOM's 10,000 startups program, India’s leading tech centered startup program. They were also elected to be a part of Hatch Accelerator at Norway at the Norwegian Seafood Innovation Cluster.

Visit ‘Aquaconnect’ at:

http://cari.org.in/

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