What led to establishing Occipital Tech? What were the early challenges you faced?
We saw an existing problem in the agriculture supply chain, which affected everyone, from farmers to exporters. The current process of grading and sorting is subjective and often leads to disputes between buyers and sellers. The end result of the existing ineffective process has resulted in problems of low revenues for farmers, reduced marketability and increase in food loss. One of the earliest challenges was to understand how this problem has affected various entities and how we could benefit the farmers using our technology.
What obstacles do you face bringing farmers into the fold? Are they willing to trust technology more than their age-old traditions?
We target Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) instead of individual farmers, as they aggregate the produce of their member farmers and then market it. In our case, the FPOs were more than happy to collaborate in our efforts and provided a lot of support. In fact, some of the ideas for our product came from them. My observations have been that farmers are willing to invest where they see a significant value addition. There are many startups who are directly serving the farmers and are doing very well, which is proof that farmers are willing to adopt technologies which add value to them.
Who are the best collaborators for start-ups to work within the agricultural space? What are the qualities and characteristics of better collaborators versus worse collaborators?
One has to visit agricultural belts to understand the actual supply chain. We have been fortunate enough to have been connected with some good start-ups in the agricultural space who have helped us set up some pilot projects and fine tune our product offerings. A majority of our early collaborators were our potential customers, who spent a significant amount of time with us during our market research and product development. We preferred collaborators who had the bandwidth to support us and a defined business outcome for the collaboration. In my opinion, there are no bad collaborators; it just depends on the stage the start-up is in and the support it is looking for.
What can you tell us about the AI integration within Occipital Tech, with regards to your emphasis on sustainable agriculture?
Forty five per cent (approx.. 1.6 bn tonnes) of the globally produced fruits and vegetables are wasted every year, out of which 40 per cent of losses occur during post-harvest and processing levels in developing countries. Reducing food loss is a crucial step in moving towards sustainable agriculture. We utilise AI and computer vision to identify visual features in a particular commodity to determine its grade. AI plays a crucial part in replicating the human expertise required to determine the grade and quality of a particular commodity. The ecosystem we are trying to develop will help in improving the marketability of the harvest and ensure that post-harvest losses due to unsold fruits and vegetables are reduced significantly.
Where does Occipital Tech see itself heading in the next five years?
We are trying to establish a standardised process for grading agricultural commodities. Right now, we are working only on a few fruits and vegetables and are aiming to add more to the list every year. The ultimate goal is to improve marketability of as many commodities as possible and to add transparency to this trade.