Reap for the Sky - Five Urban Farming Startups in India

Samridhi SinghTop Lists
India Urban Farming

Courtesy of Shutterstock.

The 1960s, known as the “Green Revolution,” was a watershed moment for Indian agriculture. The industry was transformed into an industrial system with the adoption of modern technology and methods, such as the use of high-yielding variety (HYV) seeds, sophisticated irrigation methods, pesticides and fertilizers.

Fast forward six decades: Over 60% of the country’s population is employed by the agriculture sector, which contributes to 18% of its GDP, and the system connects over 150 million farmers, 40 million retailers and over a billion consumers.

Rapidly urbanizing at 4% yearly, with a third of the population - or 377 million Indians - living in cities, there has been a recent rise in hyperlocal demand for nutritious and high-quality produce. India’s fresh produce market has grown 17% annually and expected to reach $10 billion by 2025. However, the country’s fresh produce industry has severe shortcomings - not enough production and lack of consistency in freshness. For traditional farmers, there is a logistical challenge in bringing produce to the market in a timely manner and at a fair price. Those issues, plus factors such as farming land crunch, health-conscious consumers and preference for chemical-free produce, have created room for disruption and growth for urban farming companies in the country.

Below are five early movers, started between 2011 and 2017, that have achieved scale to usher the growth of urban farming in India.

UrbanKisaan

UrbanKisaan

UrbanKisaan operates 30 vertical farms in and around the city of Hyderabad. Courtesy of UrbanKisaan.

Founded in 2017 by Sairam Reddy, Srinivas Chaganti and Vihari Kanukollu, UrbanKisaan is fighting India’s water crisis and bringing chemical-free crops to India through its vertical farming system. This YC-backed company leverages hydroponic technology for home growing kits (priced between $150-$250) and also has a B2B arm that has set up a network of urban farmings for online delivery through food delivery partners as well as a subscription-based D2C model. Its technology uses 95% less water and has a 30% higher crop produce than traditional methods.

UrbanKisaan has the capabilities to grow over 50 types of crops, a 20,000 sq. ft. research facility and 15 in-house scientists and agronomists. During the lockdowns in 2020, the company saw a 10x increase in demand for fresh produce, in part due to ‘Farm Bowl,’ its own online food service platform delivering fresh warm and cold salad bowls and dips. UrbanKissan now operates 30 vertical farms in and around the city of Hyderabad, population 10 million, and has plans to expand to other major cities in 2021. The company raised $1.5 million from YCombinator in 2020.

Clover

Launched in 2017 by Arvind Murali, Avinash B R, Gururaj Rao, and Santosh Narasipura, Clover is a greenhouse agritech platform that partners with farmers across India to produce premium, high-quality, branded greenhouse-grown produce. Farms in Clover’s network typically hold one to two acres of greenhouse farmland, where demand-led cultivation is done using its full-stack agronomy solutions, traceability, consumption prediction and end-to-end farm management services. The company currently holds 70 acres of farmland on which it operates its greenhouses, and has over 90 clients (retail chains and restaurants) across 175 locations in South India. In 2021, the company also launched ‘Deep Rooted Co,’ an in-house D2C brand of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Clover has raised $8.8 million from investors including Omnivore, Alteria Capital, Accel India and Mayfield Fund.

Living Food Company

Living Food Company

Mostly D2C, Living Food also retials with hotel chains Hilton and Four Seasons. Courtesy of Living Food Company.

Having worked at multiple high-growth consumer tech ventures such as Myntra, NowFloats and Lookup, Akash K. Sajith started Living Food Company in 2017 after both his parents were diagnosed with cancer. The company’s first product was microgreens, due to their cancer-fighting benefits. Living Food Company had its own indoor climate-control hydroponic farm that sowed USDA-approved, non-GMO seeds. Over time, it evolved into one of the leading ‘farm to fork’ e-commerce platforms in India with an NPS of 97%, the highest ever for an e-commerce company in the country. Sourced from local growers, the company delivers freshly harvested vegetables, as well as bread, cheese, chocolate and 20 other product categories and 250+ products on a subscription basis as well as on-demand.

90% of Living Food Company’s customers are D2C, but it also retails to hotels including Hilton and Four Seasons.

Living Food is committed to providing full transparency of the supply chain and has same-day delivery to ensure the freshness of the food. In an interview with The Better India, Sajith shared, “There is no room for storage in its supply chain, the vegetables are harvested at 3 a.m. and reach a customer’s doorstep by afternoon. Meanwhile, the bakers will bake a fresh batch on the estimated day of delivery.”

Bootstrapped for the first three years, Living Food Company raised funding from investors including Amasia and SOSV in 2020.

Triton Foodworks

Triton Foodworks

This self-funded startup plans to make its U.S. debut in Nashville, Tenn. Courtesy of Triton Foodworks.

Forbes 30 Under 30 India entrepreneurs Dhruv Khanna and Ullas Samrat launched Triton Foodworks in 2014 with the mission to make food production ecologically sustainable by using 300 times less land compared to conventional farming. Triton is an integrated business engaged in the soilless cultivation of pesticide-free fruits and vegetables using hydroponics and vertical farming. The company owns and operates 150,000 square feet vertical farms in Northern India and grows over 20 types of crops including strawberries, spinach, microgreens and bell peppers.

By growing within city limits, the company delivers fresh produce within hours and with a low carbon footprint compared to traditional agriculture. Additionally, due to a highly controlled farming environment, every crop is consistent in size, nutrients, smell and flavor. The company currently sells to retailers and food service companies under the brand name ChopChop.

This self-funded startup plans to expand to the U.S. in 2021 with its first project in Nashville, Tenn., and also hopes to develop a D2C model for its produce.

UGF Farms

Banker-turned-farmer Linesh Pillai was introduced to urban farming in Poland. After returning to India in 2011, he saw a big opportunity to commercialize the concept and launched India’s first vertical farm in Mumbai in 2012. UGF Farms started with greens and microgreens to test the market and was soon selling to leading restaurants, hotels and retailers across cities.

With the goal to further expand the business, UGF started converting dead spaces in communities - empty plots, areas between buildings - as well as restaurants and homes into micro farms using soilless hydroponic systems. The company is also committed to spreading awareness through its educational programs and workshops for schools and families on how to grow their own produce and the benefits of in-house farms to offset carbon emissions through reduced logistics and storage. Bootstrapped since launch, UGF currently operates in India, the U.S. and is launching in Dubai in 2021.

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