Meet the man who is reshaping aquaculture in India

Updated: Jan 19

Rajamanohar Somasundaram founded an application called Aquaconnect to cater to a community of over 40,000 fish farmers, consumers and local entrepreneurs and help them.

 

Rajamanohar Somasundaram built an aquaculture technology platform in the year 2017 to offer a slew of services including advisory, financial and insurance to fish farmers and  connect them to other stakeholders in the sector. 


Similarly, the local entrepreneurs viz Aquapartners and consumers can also assist to develop solutions and get paid for it in return.


Rajamanohar Somasundaram, Founder, Aquaconnect


“It is a dynamically challenging space, unlike agriculture. When it comes to aquaculture, the water quality and its saline content may change every six hours,” says Rajamanohar Somasundaram, Founder and CEO, Aquaconnect.

Rajamanohar was appointed as the “TED Fellow” in 2009 for his ‘Mobile4Good’ initiative and was later featured in The World Economic Forum as part of its “Young Global Leaders” in 2012. In 2019, he was awarded ‘40 UNDER 40’ by Indian Express for promoting sustainable agriculture practices in India.


“I was largely looking for opportunities in the agritech space after my stints with mobile and internet technology ventures. And, then one day I stumbled upon a shrimp farmer on a serendipitous train journey and heard his story. From then on, there was no turning back. I really wanted to create an impact in the aquaculture sector,” Rajamanohar recalls.



Aquaculture is one of the largest growing sectors in the country and contributes to a whopping 7.58 percent of the global fish production. In the year 2019-2020 fish production in India touched 14.16 million metric tons and marine products worth Rs 46,662 crores were exported. The jump and growth can be attributed to all the innovations and technological advancements in space.


Leveraging technology


Fish farmers in India, especially the ones engaged in inland fishery, have very less access to information and technology. Many of them used to feed the shrimps 60% higher than the standard operating procedure of 1:1.2. 


The launch of Aquaconnect enabled fish farmers residing in remote areas to communicate and seek advice. The chat box in the app provided them with solutions as well as on ground help and support. It also introduced to them an assistive feature known as Daily Feed Calculator which can help in optimizing animal feeding and avoid over or under feeding.


“Keeping in mind the two parameters - the amount of feed that goes into the water and the growth of animals, the feed calculator tells them the amount of feed they need to administer every day. It not only enables them to optimize the cost of farming, but also achieves low FCR (feed count ratio) and improves water quality” Rajamanohar explains.


Aquaconnect combines on-ground advisory and analytics from satellite imagery to obtain insights, “The usage of satellite remote sensing analytics is widespread in agritech, but it gets slightly difficult to replicate that in aquaculture because here all the changes and patterns take place underwater. So there is a need to employ other methods of data collection to make sense of it,” the founder says. 

Besides this, the platform also came up with ‘Pond Diary’ in 2021. Built with AI and ML technologies, it lets farmers log their farm activities so that they can be later equipped with valuable data and tips to improve productivity.


The 3R-PPM Model


Rajamanohar believes that technology can bring transparency which in turn would help to understand problems better and strengthen the value chain.



He further suggests the 3R-PPM Model - Resilient Production, Resilient Producer and Resilient Marketplace Model would transform the aquaculture sector in India. The model entails both data-driven decision making and package of practices (PoP). 


“Some of the challenges that can be addressed by introducing PoP are - how to start his own aquaculture and engage in biosecurity measures. Aquaconnect is providing the tech-enabled solutions to drive sustainable farming practices,” he added.


Investments and partnerships


Aquaconnect has raised $4 million from investors like Omnivore, Rebright Partners, Flourish Ventures, AgFunder, 6G Capital and HATCH in 2021 as part of pre-series A funding round  to develop their product and expand their market. 


“We are building a full-stack aquaculture technology platform where we can work with farmers and other stakeholders and focus on providing financial services as well,” Rajamanohar said.

In 2020, Aquaconnect HUBS, a direct-to-farmer initiative was launched in Andhra Pradesh’s Bapatla, Ongole and Avanigadda to deliver feed and other farm products and further the process of connecting farmers to banks and improve the “last-mile connectivity”. HUBS makes the process of connecting farmers to financial institutions to avail the loans easily.


A screenshot from the app


Furthermore, Aquaconnect builds credit profiles for farmers to provide working capital under the government's Kisan Credit Card (KCC) scheme. After analysing the credit needs and understanding the potential of the farmers, Aquaconnect directs them to the financial institutions. 


In 2021, Aquaconnect in partnership with the Bank of Baroda made credit access available upto Rs 10 lakhs under KCC, Pradhan Mantri Matya Sampada Yojna (PMMSY) and The Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund (FIDF) schemes. Though the startup is presently focusing on Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, it plans to expand to the other states of India soon.


AquaCRED as it is formally called now, provides data through “eyes in the sky (satellite remote sensing data) and boots on the ground (Primary data from the farms). The objective behind this is to create better opportunities for fish farmers and reduce dependency on informal lenders. 


In addition to this, Aquaconnect revived insurance in aquaculture through technological intervention. In March 2021, the startup partnered with Alliance Insurance Brokers for the shrimp farmers to avail insurance and protect themselves from natural calamities and disease outbreaks.


The demand for fish protein is at an all-time high and inland fisheries alone have produced 10.43 million metric tonnes in the year 2020-21. The introduction of technology in the aquaculture sector will only enhance this.


 

Edited by Roshni Shroff

Written by Aparajita Ghosh

 

Some resources to help you understand more about aquaculture: 


India's Aquaculture Space Awaits Disruption


Aquaculture Tech Startups in India