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Taranjeet Singh Bhamra: Our AI-enabled platform will embrace all the challenges faced by the tea industry in India

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Agri-tech startup AgNext was incubated at IIT Kharagpur, in 2016, with a vision to benefit the various stakeholders in the agri value chain. Taranjeet Singh Bhamra, CEO & founder, AgNext Technologies, speaks about the company’s innovative solutions for agribusinesses, including it’s AI-enabled platform to resolve the challenges in the tea industry

Taranjeet Singh Bhamra, CEO & Founder, AgNext Technologies

Can you share with us a brief background of your agri-tech company and a few key milestones ?

AgNext was set up to increase transparency, procurement effectiveness and safety of food in agribusinesses and benefit various stakeholders along the way. Incubated at IIT Kharagpur, AgNext got its first seed funding from a-IDEA National Agriculture Research (Food and Agribusiness incubator and accelerator in Hyderabad, India) in 2017. Sensing the potential and the outreach of this venture in the following years, funding was received from Omnivore and Kalaari venture funds as well.

The startup was conferred with the award of being amongst the best agri-tech companies in Asia by Rabobank Sustainable Ag in 2019. Further accolades came it’s way when AgNext received “Best AgriTech Startup of India” award by Hon. Narendra Singh Tomar (Minister of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare of India) in Outlook Agriculture Conclave & Swaraj Awards 2020.

How effective is your agri-tech platform in ensuring food quality and safety in the agricultural value chain?

The effectiveness of our platform lies in the fact that a test result associated with food quality and safety in the agricultural value chain which conventionally is obtainable from 4-15 days, is available within 30 seconds through our platform and that too on-field as the devices are portable and handy. Besides, one need not go to collect the report as the report can be downloaded on the mobile. For the food sector where each day is critical in moving the produce from producer to end consumer, the ability to generate reports within 30 seconds is manna from heaven. With no associated maintenance cost and zero additional expenditure our platform also facilitates in cost-saving as it is done through portable, wireless, battery-operated devices. To be able to find out adulteration of any kind within 30 seconds has the potential to be a real game-changer for the food industry.

What has been the focus of your tech innovation for agribusinesses?

Our technology is focused to infuse innovation in the manner in which operations associated with grains, spices, herbs, and beverages is undertaken. Through our platform grading, sorting, and incidence of pesticides can be checked at the market gate and would help in a big way in sorting. In the case of milk, our technology has the potential to discern nature, i.e. it is natural or synthetic and the extent of adulteration. For herbs, the medicinal value can be found out within a jiffy and it has the potential for better price realisation for the grower, while in case of turmeric the ability to discern curcumin has the potential to change the market dynamics of turmeric.

AgNext’s hardware suite comprise devices utilising NIR Spectroscopy and AI-based image processing technologies.

The impact:
1. This technology increases the visibility on tradeable and safety parameters of each commodity instantly, increasing transparency in procurement, with reduced TAT
2. Dependency on assaying staff for accuracy decreases, increasing quantitative visibility on quality
3. Transparent testing through these equipment also increases trust of farmers on buyers, improving seller-buyer relationship

The tea industry continues to face umpteen challenges, how can your data-driven technologies bring about a difference?

Our AI-enabled platform will embrace all the challenges that are being faced by the tea industry in India amidst Covid-19 by utilising the power of artificial intelligence and computer vision – to revitalise and reposition India in domestic and global markets. The tea industry is ripe for modernisation and is trailblazing the way forward. Data-driven digital technologies will bring efficiency, transparency, and profit for all stakeholders.

What is the nature of the MoU you have signed with Tea Research Association?

AgNext Technologies has proposed to set up an Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence at Tocklai to accelerate data-driven technologies in the tea industry. To facilitate setting it up, Tea Research Association (TRA) has offered some space at the campus and AgNext will build a state of the art facilities.

It is a collaborative effort between TRA Tocklai and AgNext Technologies to fully work on artificial intelligence and data-driven technology. This will be the first of such intervention for the tea industry anywhere in the world and would be a game-changer for the tea industry.

How do you foresee AI solving many of the problems traditionally associated with industries like tea and spice?

The current practice of manual counting and testing of tea is time-consuming and prone to error. Errors lead to poor quality purchases and an unfair price for farmers. With the digitisation of these processes, farmers can be rewarded for their transparency, buyers can be assured of optimal procuring decisions and consumers will enjoy the benefits of quality and traceability.

AgNext, India’s fastest growing agri-tech company has teamed up with the Tea Research Association to transform the industry by developing a Fine Leaf Count machine utilising the power of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Vision.

At present testing is done either in in-house QC labs or third party analytical testing labs. In both cases, samples are sent from various locations to labs often involving extensive logistics networks (This is often an extensive pain point for industry stakeholders as coordinating transportation of huge volumes of samples is an issue. Further, in case of disruptions to logistics or testing infrastructure, which happened during Covid pandemic, this would lead to disruptions in industry supply chain, thus having adverse impacts such as inability to fulfill customer order).

Following are the key points with respect to current process of lab analysis.
1. Turn around time for sample analysis varies between 3 – 7 days (more nowadays due to the Covid-19 situation)
2. It involves an extensive sample preparation and analysis process. This is a highly skilled process requiring number of chemists and other technical manpower in order to perform analysis
3. Equipment used for analysis are often expensive

AgNext’s Qualix is a rapid Quality assessment solution, which can be deployed on-site (at farm level, in mandi, etc). This device can be used for testing of proximate and attribute testing parameters in spices chilli, turmeric, pepper, ginger, etc) in just 30 seconds and with lab benchmarked accuracy.

What are your plans for the future in terms of new technologies and strategic expansion?

Future plans include reaching out to all the major food processors as well and provide them with a solution that not only would ease the supply of quality food for billions in India but also the world over.

We are here to change the goal post of agri-business and through our innovative solutions foresee impacting this sector in a profound manner by creating knowledge-based employment opportunities all over the countryside.

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