Changemaking for Sustainable Agriculture

Rishikesh was elected an Ashoka Young Changemaker from India in May 2022. This story was written through a consultative process during their selection to our global community.

It was in the devastating agrarian crisis that hit Odisha particularly hard in 2017 that Rishikesh saw, up close and personal, the rot unleashed in farms across the state. A massive pest and microbial attack destroyed close to 178 thousand hectares of land in nine districts. This led to a string of farmer suicides. “The helpless scenario of innumerable farmers committing suicide was heart-wrenching,” recalled Rishikesh. Belonging to an agricultural family, Rishikesh too, had to bear the brunt of the situation. His family lost about 90% of their expected yield that year.

Crop losses due to pests and diseases are a common phenomenon in the country. About 30-35% of the annual crop yield amounting to approximately 50,000 Crores INR (about 6.3 Billion USD) gets wasted every year due to pest attacks. Rishikesh pointed out a few causal factors that are helpful in understanding why this happens, “the muddled state of the agricultural sector, food crisis, and food insecurity, are among many more unresolved matters that are often turned a deaf ear to. Add to this, the incessant rate of crop failure, disheartening grieving of farmers, consistent food insecurity, rapid elevation in food crisis during the pandemic, limited facilities and development initiatives, and inaccessible tech-helps for the underprivileged and the commoners. This is upsetting on a personal level.” He further pointed to how the lack of awareness about these grave issues only makes matters worse.

The agrarian crisis of 2017 served as a tipping point in Rishikesh’s journey as an innovator, design thinker, and a changemaker. The personal nature of the problem struck a chord. He actively started to work on the mitigation of pest attacks and crop damage. He formed a team of 9 members from across the country, and together they started working on Agri-Tech solutions to the issue. As their work improved, they started getting opportunities from various organizations like Atal Innovation Mission and TCS (a multi-national tech services company) among others. This led to them developing ‘Kishan Know’, a low-cost, sustainable, and farmer-friendly product, designed to detect potential microbial attacks at early stage and prevent crop damage. Its IoT and AI-based model helps recognize pests and microbial attacks in just 12 hours and helps curb microbial growth and boost crop production efficiently. The product also has applications in monitoring irrigation for efficient water management.

“Kishan Know is designed to detect all kinds of pests, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other known microbes. It is a farmer-friendly and cost-friendly device that requires no prior knowledge to use it. It provides an interactive platform for smart monitoring of croplands, detects the exact affected area of fields, and provides farmers with necessary solutions. It also provides for a community of agricultural experts and farmers, simplifying problem discussions. Kishan Know hence, makes agriculture sustainable, protected and valuable”, explained Rishikesh.

The team successfully piloted the prototype in over 75 villages in the district of Jagadhsinghpur, Odisha. This put them on the map and Kishan Know went on to get recognized by government bodies and research institutes that are helping them both to improve the product and scale up operations to reach millions of farmers across the country.

Rishikesh values teamwork and prioritizes focusing on “the unresolved, ignored and awareness-lacking arenas of societal issues.” He acknowledges that a connection at a personal level is truly the force that keeps us moving. In the future, he wishes to make Agri-Tech easily accessible to farmers in rural areas. “Many crucial farm-related issues, their detection, and solution require the involvement of technology, which is beyond the reach of remote areas for now.

Educating farmers about the utilization of technology for better and making it accessible for them to apply is vital”, he remarked. He believes that the kids of rural India have “an unmatched potential in problem-solving as they relate and feel the circumstances the most”. He wishes to implement their creative ideas and include their skills to make new innovations.

This story was written by Prachi Vats.