Kerala start-up rides on UNDP wings, offers UAV solutions for agri sector

The Hindu Business Line

Posted August 5, 2022
UNDP-India-Story

Devan Chandrasekharan, Founder and Managing Director, Fuselage Innovations, with his team

Customised solutions for aerial plant survey and plant spraying are available

As a result of the floods in the State since 2018, climate-smart agriculture is more important than ever for food security and yield improvement, a spokesman for the start-up said. Floods have affected soil characteristics leading to a reduction in the yield and consequent loss of livelihood for farmers.

Climate action support 

Fuselage is supported by the UNDP India through the Green Innovation Fund under its India High Range Mountain Landscape (IHRML) project in partnership with the government of India, the Global Environment Facility, and Haritha Kerala Mission. The idea is to promote alternatives to the heavy-handed use of farm inputs.

Shoko Noda, Resident Representative, UNDP India, told BusinessLine that technological innovation is important for effective climate action. “We provide technical and financial support to young entrepreneurs to leave a positive impact upon the environment,” Noda said.

Poor soil characteristics

Conventional fertilisers can make up for poor soil characteristics but only to a limited extent, the spokesman for Fuselage said. To manage a small area of damage or degradation, farmers usually apply fertiliser to the entire crop acreage. This increases the chances of soil acidification and changes in the soil ecosystem. Also, excess fertiliser runs off from the fields and contaminates water bodies nearby.

Devan Chandrasekharan, Founder and Managing Director, Fuselage Innovations, said interactions with stakeholders had brought out the need for plant treatment based on soil and leaf characteristics. UAVs are used to analyse farmland and plant characteristics through spectral imagery. They are represented to the farmers through a digital platform to pre-determine the yield and take appropriate decisions.

Foliar feeding option

UAVs are also used to spray liquid fertiliser directly over the leaves — a method known as foliar feeding which can absorb essential elements quickly. It is a means of compensating for soil or environment-induced nutrient deficiencies.

B Radhakrishnan, Entomology Division at the UPASI Tea Research Foundation, said uptake of fertilisers through foliar feeding is 8-10 times more effective and also advised more combinational approaches as in pest management.

Fuselage was chosen as one of the 11 green enterprises involved in clean-tech innovation to be supported by the Green Innovation Fund under the IHRML project. Each of the selected start-ups was provided risk capital by the fund, and supported through stages from pilot-testing to larger-scale implementation, Chandrasekharan said.

Pilot proves successful

Fuselage piloted research in 4.64 hectares of the Harrison Malayalam tea estate in Chinnakanal, Idukki. Initial plant mapping and analysis revealed significant micronutrient loss. The pilot resulted in a savings of over 50 per cent in nutrient consumption from optimisation of foliar application, and an increase in yield by 10-18 per cent.

Harrison Malayalam has since issued a work order to scale up the pilot to 50 hectares under the Drone-As-A-Service (DrAAS) business model. Cherian M George, Chairman, Harrison Malayalam, said “The methodology has proved to be viable, and we are thinking of more interventions in our agriculture ecosystem.”

Fuselage had earlier won the Hitachi India National Innovation Challenge in the Smart Agriculture category and ₹30 lakh in prize money. With more funds at its disposal, it aims to expand plant data analysis and focus more on analysing aspects such as crop damage due to pests and seasonal deficiency in crops.

The article was originally written for The Hindu Business Line