Temasek fund backs India start-up bringing AI technology to farms

CropIn was set up in 2010 by Krishna Kumar, who hails from a family of farmers in central India. PHOTO: CROPIN TECHNOLOGY/FACEBOOK

BANGALORE (BLOOMBERG) - CropIn, an artificial intelligence (AI) and data-based agritech start-up, has raised US$20 million (S$26.4 million) in a funding round led by Temasek-backed ABC World Asia, as the coronavirus pandemic accelerates the adoption of digital technologies in farming.

The Bangalore-headquartered agricultural AI start-up provides Software as a Service, or SaaS, products to farms and development organisations globally to improve predictability, efficiency and sustainability of crops.

Additional new investors in the Series C funding include Infosys billionaire co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan's family office and a fund of the UK government, CDC Group.

CropIn has raised US$33.1 million so far.

The company was set up in 2010 by Krishna Kumar, who hails from a family of farmers in central India and quit a career at General Electric to found the start-up after being deeply affected by widespread rural suicides in his country.

It analyses data such as aerial imagery, ground scouting, hyper-local weather and market price fluctuations from 13 million acres (5.3 million hectares) across four million farms worldwide to predict productivity and monitor risks for thousands of variants of crops.

That allows the company to provide warnings to small farms on what disease will hit a particular crop or when to expect an adverse climate event such as morning frost.

"Covid has brought home for countries the risks of disrupted food supply chains, food safety and food security," Mr Kumar, also the start-up's chief executive officer, said in a phone interview. "Every country and every agri-business wants to remotely monitor and safeguard the supply chain."

Backed by early investors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Singapore-based VC BeeNext, CropIn has customers and partners in 52 countries including Basel-headquartered Syngenta, the World Bank, Canada-based McCain Foods and Germany's BASF. The new funding will fuel further global expansion and help strengthen its technology.

India's agritech space is abloom, with dozens of start-ups sprouting up in the last few years to disrupt dated farming practices and bring more efficiency into a massive industry dominated by small land holdings. One in nine agritech start-ups globally are from the South Asian nation, which had 450 such businesses in 2019, according to a report by the Indian trade body Nasscom.

That's piqued the interest of investors such as Tiger Global and Accel, which have ploughed tens of millions into early-stage companies. Though much of the focus has been on supply chain improvements through practical approaches like aggregating farm produce and renting farm equipment, deep-tech start-ups like CropIn working in areas like crop diagnostics and farm automation are also earning recognition.

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