AgriVijay is an offline & online curated platform for farmers that provides renewable energy products & services along with new technological innovations in the Agritech space that promises either increase in the ‘yield’ or ‘savings’. It reduces the expenditure and dependency on ‘fossil fuels such as diesel, firewood etc for the farmers.
For the interview, we had Vimal Panjwani, co-founder and CEO of AgriVijay. He is a passionate Agri Sales Professional with industry experience of more than 8 years. He completed his MBA in Agribusiness and founded AgriVijay along with his mother. He aims to empower farmers with renewable energy, making them energy independent. He spoke to Komal Pattanayak of VCBay.
Komal: Please tell us something about yourself and your company AgriVijay.
Vimal: I’m a BTech and MBA in Agribusiness graduate from Symbiosis. I have worked in the industry for eight years in diversified sectors, inclined towards rural Agri space. I’ve worked at the senior level and middle-level positions in various multinational companies.
In 2020, I decided that I should start something of my own. My mother also motivated me to do that because she also wanted to do something in terms of business and a commercial entity.
Since I was passionate about farmers and renewable energy, we were thinking about what we should start. We decided why not club renewable energy with agriculture? If you club renewable energy with technical things, you get a direct benefit. Renewable energy covers biogas, solar wind energy, or other green energy products. Hence, if you club renewable energy with agriculture, you will realize that all the farmers, if they are replacing any of the particular activity of the agriculture lifestyle with a renewable energy product, they immediately get the savings.
Because in COVID we realized all which was important was saving. If you have savings, you can survive, even if your income is not there. We decided why not double the savings rather than income.
We all are talking about climate change and we all know that every year we are facing global warming issues but alone, we cannot contribute to that. We are an agrarian economy. 70% of our population resides in rural areas. If this population becomes a renewable energy producer it will give a direct impact or direct contribution to climate change.
So, I think there’s a win-win situation in the whole ecosystem and AgriVijay was born out of that idea.
Komal: You did your MBA in Agribusiness. What was the reason behind choosing this particular field? Has your family been in the farming sector for generations or you got some kind of exposure in this field while growing up?
Vimal: I come from a non-farming background and I did my BTech in Bioinformatics which is the opposite of the Agriculture or Agribusiness sector. But in 2009, when I was in my engineering time, I realized that I wanted to do something which I could keep on doing all my life. Like I should not get bored because when you want to work, you should be passionate enough to work.
I realized that agriculture was where my interest and passion was. Travelling to rural vicinities comforts me. I decided to do something in agriculture. Then I thought, why not have a post-graduation in Agribusiness and MBA was the first priority being in the professional space and getting into the corporate world. I decided to fight for CAT and SNAP. I got into the Symbiosis and since then there’s been no looking back.
Komal: Can you explain about the products that you have at AgriVijay?
Vimal: Renewable energy is a vast product. We have taken a product that actually fits into the farmer’s lifestyle, in his own comfort zone.
This is important because if you are giving me a product that doesn’t fit my lifestyle, I will not ever try to buy it. We have taken a biogas digester, which can easily replace an LPG cylinder or firewood, because most of the women, even today in villages, are cooking on firewood. Biogas also gives us a by-product, which is organic slurry, a liquid organic fertilizer. Liquid organic fertilizer can easily replace or reduce the amount of chemical fertilizer on your farm. These two products perfectly fit into the farmer lifestyle.
Then we have Biogas Genset. Every farmer has a diesel Genset to run electric water pumps during emergency time or in the absence of access to energy. We have replaced it with the Biogas Genset, in case a farmer wants to increase his savings by reducing his dependency on fossil fuels such as diesel, he can easily install a biogas digester with the Biogas Genset and other main products.
If you talk about solar water pumps, we can easily replace your electric water pumps with it. We have the solar inverter, as people in rural areas struggle to get complete 24*7 electricity.
Komal: You are currently catering to the western part of India, mainly Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Do you plan to expand to other Indian states as well?
Vimal: We started our operations in Maharashtra and Rajasthan in the beginning because we are a startup and we are bootstrapped. As soon as we raise our first round of funding from the investors, we will be expanding towards Gujarat and Karnataka, covering all of India in terms of the South, North, West and East zone. Renewable energy is the need of the hour and every farmer is actually looking forward to accessing it.
Komal: AgriVijay has both online and offline shops right now. When we talk about online shops, it is especially difficult for farmers residing in deep rural areas to have awareness about renewable energy and your products. How do you ensure that they are aware of it?
Vimal: Even today, if you ask any farmer, he will never buy a Biogas digester or a solar water pump online because of these high-value items. Hence you have to be present offline because you need to have a conversation with the farmer. You have to build that trust because he’s going to pay you in cash.
Offline stores are a major requirement and these offline stores are actually not only selling the product but also educating farmers about the renewable energy benefits and the advantages because renewable energy even today is not the need for the farmer. You still have to generate that need and to generate that need, you have to educate as much as you can. We are doing this by our field sales team. We are doing this by our call centres, which have worked on the energy advisory consultant sales approach. We are also doing this through social media.
Komal: Did you face any difficulty in persuading the farmers?
Vimal: I think renewable energy is the toughest sector. When you talk about selling and implementation, we will never see a company going deeply or penetrating to the rural area because the need is not there. The biggest challenge is to convince the farmer on the renewable energy front, how it will benefit him in terms of his savings or in terms of this return on investment.
Most of the farmers want to know that. And if you talk about the conversion ratio it starts with 1:10 and as soon as you become a brand or a growing company or a growing startup, you reach the conversion ratio of 1:5, which is good.
The initial stages are difficult and different and we even today face challenges. We hear lots of nos before we get a single yes. We get nine nos before we get a single yes. I think the amount of effort we are putting in is getting the return on investment and the social impact, which is okay. We are going to scale and grow this in fact to a larger extent.
Komal: If you look at the past and present of agriculture in India, the farmers are not so happy with their income. How much are they able to save by using such renewable products?
Vimal: It varies from person to person. Suppose I’m a farmer and I have a requirement of a 3 HP solar water pump. Normally, farmers in the Rajasthan state go for a 3 HP or 5HP, in other areas they go for a more horsepower pump. So a normal 5 HP solar water pump saves around 24-30,000 Rupees on diesel monthly. Your return on investment comes in a year and these renewable energy products come with a warranty of around, 10 years, 15 years and twenty-five years.
The beauty of the renewable energy product is you get the return on investment in your first, second, third year. And you enjoy the rest of the warranty with lots of savings.
Komal: Agrivijay has received many awards and recognitions within a period of six months. Can you please tell us about some of them and if there is a particular one that was a turning point in your professional journey after which things were just not the same?
Vimal: We have received lots of awards in a short tenure and it is actually motivating and really overwhelming because if the industry starts appreciating your vision and your hard work, I think you grow as a company. And we grew as an organization, which is important for our employees, for our farmers and for our partners.
There are two appreciation and awards, which were the major turning points for AgriVijay. The first appreciation came from Mr. Gautam Adani, chairman and managing director of the Adani Group. When he actually appreciated our vision of empowering farmers with renewable energy. This was the first time when we thought that we were on the right track.
The second was the award by FICCI when we won the top Agri-innovator award in COVID times. When you get awarded by a FICCI, it means that you are something in the vicinity. And we were among all the reputed funded startups.
Komal: Do you think that the Indian government is doing enough for entrepreneurs like you in the agriculture sector?
Vimal: I think if anybody wants to, or always have dreamed of having an Agritech startup or have always wanted to be an entrepreneur, I think this is the time. The government body gives immense support. Bodies such as FICCI, incubators, the accelerators, everyone is actually supporting the Agritech startups. The kind of support I’m witnessing as of now, it’s immense and I’m totally in appreciation of the government because these steps are actually making India Atmanirbhar. They have initiated the startup fund scheme of 945 crore rupees, which will run through 300 incubators.
If you are bootstrapped, then till the time an investor comes in, you have to prove your traction and revenue in place before you pitch to the investors. And hence the seed fund or the initial capital becomes very important. I think our government is really supporting that. We are supported by AAC, ADT Baramati foundation, which works with NITI Aayog and the Atal Innovation Mission.
Komal: Other than funding, would you be interested in scaling across the country by any means of collaboration with other startups or small businesses? And if yes, how do you think you can do that?
Vimal: We are already trying this partnership model. We are in touch with lots of organizations in terms of partnership. We are also in touch with someone in financing in terms of listing our products on the platform, NBFCs and banks so that we can be able to provide financing on the production in the future. Partnerships are important and we are doing that wherever we can, because we need a partner who understands renewable energy and climate change on a larger scale.
We have already partnered with 20 startups, which are listing their products on our platform and selling them. And we are looking for more partnerships where we can actually empower farmers, not just with renewable energy, but other products as well.
Komal: You started AgriVijay with your mother. So what has her role been like?
Vimal: When and if you start something within your family, I think the major support you get is – one funding, the second is the maturity in terms of decision-making. Whenever you want to make a decision and require mature advice on that particular decision as a CEO of the company, I think it helps a lot.
Her major role has always been giving me a second opinion about the decisions I make. She also looks after the Rajasthan call centre operations. She has been a major supporter in building AgriVijay because we are running in two States and renewable energy is a very difficult and intense technology.
When I look after Maharashtra in terms of travelling, she looks after Rajashtan or if I am in Rajasthan, she looks after Maharashtra. She keeps on switching roles and she keeps on supporting me on the advisory level as well.
Komal: Can you share the most valuable advice that you’ve received from her?
Vimal: There was an investor from whom we were about to receive funding, but the vision of that particular investor for our startup was different from ours. We were about to get funded and we could have been a funded startup, but she gave me advice that if your investor’s vision is not aligned with your vision, you will never grow to a level where you want to. I think that that was a piece of valuable advice from her side.
And I made a decision that I will not move ahead with the funding round with that particular investor. And. Uh, I think, uh, even today I don’t regret that decision. I, I feel that we made the right decision on we’re now moving towards the right direction in terms of,
Komal: Modern agriculture makes use of electricity for every single process that it has. But solar energy lacks that consistency of energy provision. So how do you deal with that?
Vimal: If you go and talk to a farmer who is already using electrical water of day three horsepower. We recommend a five HP solar water pump, rather than a 3 HP solar water pump because we are already aware of the deficit of the energy. A solar water pump cannot be compared to an electrical water pump of the same horsepower or same electricity consumption. We have to at least balance the deficit, which is coming from the renewable energy products.
Komal: What’s next? What’s in the pipeline for AgriVijay?
Vimal: Our first priority is definitely funding. Besides that, we are now entering with more partnerships and adding a few more products, such as Solar dryers, E-tractors which are already coming into the sector because green energy tractors are next where we can save a lot of diesel and maintenance costs. Solar dryers because lots of farmers generate food waste, which is an integral part of our value chain. I think a solar dryer will become an additional advantage for somebody who’s getting into food processing. These two products are there in the pipeline and other few products, which need to be listed on the platform. And I think the future looks great.
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