Boomitra (meaning “Friend of the Earth” in Sanskrit), is a unique Agri-tech start-up that is creating a global network of partners who are incentivising farmers to switch to sustainable agricultural practices and mitigate climate change. It is being done through a platform that provides end-to-end solution where farmers are not only able to grow more with less and increase soil carbon, but also get paid for making a positive impact on reducing climate change, through carbon credits. Boomitra recently raised $ 4 million from Yara Growth Ventures and Chevron Technology.
In an interview with Aadith Moorthy, CEO, Boomitra, our agriculture team tries to understand the unique model that Boomitra operates on and how Indian farmers can benefit from its behavioural science backed remote sensing solution.
1. When team Boomitra started in its entrepreneurial journey, what were the key issues that it had observed farmers and Agri supply chain stakeholders were facing?
Small scale producers (SSP) have the lowest carbon footprint but are most vulnerable to climate change. Without having the proper tools, knowledge, or information – the SSP climate resilience would continue to decline. Changing weather patterns combined with degrading soils are leading to stagnant (or declining) production which would lead to further deforestation, thereby creating a vicious cycle.
Boomitra strongly felt that farmers needed insights about their farms at their fingertips – at regular intervals while being reliable and scalable. Providing farmers this level of information would also lead to a better quality of food being produced (Mexico and India saw the highest number of refusals by the FDA from 2005-2013) while improving their productivity, allowing them to grow more with less.
Then Boomitra built a scalable solution where farmers would have access to information like their soil moisture (daily), farm level weather, nutrients (on a weekly basis) to allow them to grow more with less. But as we progressed, we saw that the ability of the farmer to fight back against climate change – through adopting good agricultural practices and generating carbon removal. We then started pivoted our organization to enabling farmers to sequester carbon, build up soil health, optimize their production, and get paid for it directly from the carbon credits!
2. Were there any other solutions or companies that were trying to address those issues?
There are a host of solutions in the market but almost all of them are re-packaging open-source data sets and providing them to farmers. None of the solutions provide the granularity, actionable insights, and accuracy like Boomitra’s Agtech stack does.
3. What was Boomitra’s solution suite to address these problems?
In 2017, Boomitra (then ConserWater) built a solution where farmers would have access to information like soil moisture (daily), farm level weather, nutrients (on a weekly basis) to allow them to grow more with less. Through this agri-stack, we gathered users in every inhabited continent with 20000 acres worth of paying customers in India, Israel, and the USA and 40 billion liters of water was saved since 2018. For this, Boomitra was nominated as one of the editor's picks for the Food Planet Prize in 2020.
4. What are the challenges you faced while scaling up across different geographies and how you went about solving those challenges? (Be it technical, economic, behavioral, operational, etc..)
We immediately saw that SSPs had grown accustomed to their Bad Agricultural Practices (BAP) and were very wary of changing their ways despite farm-specific information being provided to them. We also observed the universally known fact – that farmers (who anyway suffer from financial strain) - were not ready to pay for farm advisory.
This is when ConserWater pivoted to Boomitra and decided to provide farmers with payments to do the right thing i.e. Good Agricultural Practices and hence, generating verified Carbon Credits from these SSPs. These carbon credits are then sold to Fortune companies that use them to meet their Net Zero Goals. Farmers are provided with an additional indirect source of income which helps improve their soil health and increases their climate resilience – at scale.
5. In very simple terms, can you give us comparison figures of the savings/earnings farmers can make using Boomitra's solutions?
By adopting simple practices like in-situ biomass incorporation, manuring, or crop rotations farmers could generate 3 credits/acre/year translating into Rs.1400/acre/year. Moreover, Boomitra can provide its entire agri-stack (mentioned above) for free while providing these farmers extension services via our 150+ Ground Partners (I.e Behaviour Change Experts – who are provided a healthy percentage of the Carbon Credits Generated)
6. Currently, who are all the key customers/industries/sectors of Boomitra, and in which all geographic locations (both India & Abroad) are Boomitra’s solutions deployed?
On the buy-side (Buyers of Carbon Credits): We work with large-scale traders and retailers of carbon credits (carbon credits are a commodity), along with individual major corporations looking for carbon credits and climate mitigation solutions, like Ericsson, Chevron, etc. We also have major contracts for the carbon credits worth more than $10M, which will soon be publicly announced.
On the supply side of credits, we work with a wide variety of partners like:
- Mega NGOs like Pronatura (in Mexico), WeltHungerHilfe, IDH, WOTR in India
- Organizations who support FPOs like the Center for Sustainable Agriculture
- Food and Textile companies
- Networks like Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) and FAIRTRADE NAPP
- Individuals who have influenced a substantial number of their community members to adopt good agricultural practices in the form of organic agriculture or Natural farming.
7. In your own words what is Boomitra’s USP and how are its products and services universal to developing countries?
We are the only company in the world that can generate 3rd party certified agricultural carbon removal credits without the need for soil sampling. Our partners on the ground have a history of behavior change and Boomitra’s unique business model incentivizes these partners for their efforts so that their programs can expand and with that, the number of ‘Carbon Farmers’ also increases.
8. Can you share a key success story and the impact numbers?
Consider a partnership with IPS Foundation in Punjab where we conducted a study with 40 farmers: 20 were burning their stubble and 20 were doing in-situ incorporation of the stubble via the use of a Happy Seeder.
The results were very clear:
- Burning of stubble leads to loss of soil's organic carbon
- Farmers doing in-situ incorporation of stubble were able to generate 3 credits /acre/year - as per our partner, this is enough to deter and even altogether stop the burning of stubble within the states of Punjab and Haryana.
Boomitra plans to roll out the solution on at least 30,000 acres this year and expand to over 700,000 acres over the next 3 years leveraging Yara Crop Nutrition Centers and several other partners.
9. Tell us about your expansion plans – which are your target states within India and which are the other countries Boomitra looks forward to expanding its products and services to?
Currently, we operate in India, Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, Kazakstan, Mexico. Over the next 12 months, we would be expanding to Columbia, Brazil, Central Europe, Nigeria, Indonesia. Boomitra’s unique business model and technology allow us to operate globally to fulfill our goal of Giga-Tonne Level Carbon removal by the end of the decade. In India, we currently operate in Punjab, Haryana, UP, Gujrat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, TS, AP and would like to expand into Jharkhand, Odhissa, MP, Bihar, and Assam.
10. Also, could you tell us about your key observation/trends in the global carbon-sequestering markets from an agricultural point of view?
As per the Taskforce for Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets, the markets should be worth around $ 100 Billion by the end of the decade. Currently, less than 5 per cent of the carbon offsets produced are Carbon Removals.
Boomitra’s technology is democratizing the carbon credit market for smallholder farmers while providing unparalleled transparency to buyers of carbon credit who are getting a high-quality, carbon removal credit.
This interview was conducted by the Agriculture Team at Invest India.
The views/opinions expressed here are personal.