For Devika and Devan Chandrasekharan, the smell of soil evokes many childhood memories. Born into a farming family in Alappuzha, the siblings have always been fascinated by green fields and homegrown agricultural products.
But innovating a solution to benefit hundreds of farmers was never really on the cards. Devika pursued a degree in electrical and electronics engineering, while Devan went for aeronautical engineering. But after the Kerala floods in 2018, they knew it was time to take stock of the devastation the disaster had caused to the farming community.
“Farmers were among those worst hit by the floods. Kerala’s land, which is generally fertile, was destroyed due to the removal of topsoil, and reaping good yields became an unattainable goal. Our mission was to aid them with a useful innovation,” Devan tells The Better India.
And so, in 2020, they formed Fuselage Innovations, a startup that provides agricultural aerial plant surveys and sprays fertilisers with drones, which the founders say results in maximum utilisation of resources and better production.
The company manufactures customised Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), or drones, for plant mapping and aerial spraying. “The days of scouting crop health manually is a thing of the past. Aerial surveys deliver valuable data quickly and autonomously. Fuselages dedicated high-precision UAV built for various activities including agriculture missions, soil monitoring, and vegetation management. Aerial Spraying UAV crafted for the optimum smart agriculture solution to support higher payload, optimises the cost-effectiveness of crop ultra low volume nutrient spraying, accurately and safely delivers more in less time,” says Devan.
The startup conducts a thorough analysis of soil types, crops, and required nutrients, to create these drones. For this, they conduct direct farm visits.
Devan says aerial spraying UAVs are capable of covering up to 50 acres in a day with the minimum resources. Fuselage charges Rs 5,000 per acre and manufactures both agricultural and FPV (first-person view) drones.
“I have worked as a freelancer for similar projects. Devika is into business, so she handles that part completely. The innovation was challenging at the beginning but was favoured with grants, funds, and recognition at needed times. Everything fell into place and now we can help more than 370 farmers across Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra,” the 26-year-old says.
“Fuselage is the first startup in Kerala to hold permits from the Union Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Civil Aviation,” he adds. Advisors of the company include CA Girishankar, design engineer Athul Chandran, as well as Dr. Berin Pathrose from the Department of Entomology of Kerala Agricultural University.
Devan explains, “By spending Rs 5,000 for the process, farmers save around Rs 15,000 as labour cost and price of fertilisers as well as consumption rate. There is also a visible growth in yield, which is up to 40 percent.”
He adds that some top clients of the company include the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Kerala Centre for Pest Management, Synthite Industries Pvt Ltd. and Harrison Malayalam Limited.
Shinoj Subramaniyam, senior scientist at Ernakulam Krishi Vigyan Kendra says, “Fuselage Innovations has assisted Ernakulam KVK for testing organic pesticides. It is a promising technology that can replace labour in the paddy field. The spraying can be done on the 70th day of sowing to get best results.”
Sameer P, who cultivates paddy on 170 acres of land in Cherthala, says, “This method is totally a boon for large scale farmers like me. It cuts the manual labour and the cost associated with it. Usually, the process takes four rounds with multiple labourers. Using drones, it finishes in just two rounds, with half the cost. It also covers every inch of the farm without spoiling the plants.”
He says that using drones also controls the amount of fertiliser released. “Only half the amount of pesticides/ fertilisers are used in the spraying method,” he adds.
“Incorporated in July 2020, the startup made its prototypes of unmanned aerial vehicles for Make in India, Atmanirbhar Bharat project for precision farming. “We got grants and seed fund assistance from the PM initiative through the Ministry of Agriculture for the completion of the project. During the 16 month journey, we got four series of achievements from different ecosystem partners,” says Devan in pride.
The startup gained a grant through the ministry of electronics’ Nidhi Prayas program. Agnii Invest India listed the project on their portal. The United Nations Development Program categorised the innovation in sustainable development goals (SDG) zero hunger and the startup received a grant for prototype development. “TCS foundation initiative Digital impact square recognized our project as innovation in agriculture and we received grants from them too. We have been announced as the best performing startup in the Hackathon SCOUT 2021 organised by STPI Bhuvaneswar and the ministry of electronics,” he added.
“All these recognitions have come as a surprise to us. We had started off by thinking this is going to be a challenging business. More than just being a company looking for profits, we feel content that we are able to help farmers, without whom our very survival is at stake,” says Devika.
Contact Fuselage Innovations through their website www.fuselage.co.in.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)