What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Bioprime Agrisolutions started in 2016. Incidentally, it was also the year that Maharashtra was facing the worst heat wave in 50 years. And we didn’t just have one heat wave; we had five such heat waves hitting us in the summer that year. In and around Pune, especially, there is a very large tomato growing belt, in fact the largest in Asia, – Narayangaon International Tomato Market. In 2016, we were working with tomato farmers primarily because it is a cash crop and is an important crop for the region. What we found was that 183 villages lost 96% of their crop only because of the heat wave. Interestingly, however, it wasn’t the temperature that was the culprit per se, but rather the fluctuations in the temperature. Wherever the plants survived, they were subjected to a rabid attack by certain pests, and farmers had to suffer additional expenditure on insecticides and pesticides, and at the end of the season, they were left with nothing. 

The sheer amount of destruction after the heat wave made us realize that there is one factor that will always remain outside our control and that is climate change. Today, there are mechanisms that can help farmers with advance warnings and notifications about the weather, but then that’s it right? Even with an advance warning about a heat wave, all he can do is water his crops better and just hope they survive! That’s when we decided that we would focus on crop solutions that will help farmers address climate change related problems.

Bioprime is helping make crops climate resilient using targeted physiology modulating biomolecules. Tell us more about the technology.

Scientific analysis to determine the impact of climate change on crops has shown us that the very processes responsible for nutrient uptake, photosynthesis, defense, flowering etc are performing suboptimally (sometimes at efficiencies as low as 40%). 

We are basically three founders, with PhDs and postdoc experience in the plant sciences. So, we understand plant physiology and basic plant processes. So, we decided to play to our strengths and use our core expertise to see if we could fix something in terms of plant processes and plant physiology. That is the basis of our technology which is SNIPR: Smart Nano molecules Induced Physiological Response. 

We develop these formulations based on plant signalling molecules – they are small biomolecules which when given to the plant can trigger very specific processes. These formulations are fast acting and instantaneous.

Most of our products are based on different signals in plants. For example, heat stress is a complex process that is mediated through many pathways, and our products for heat stress target a couple of those. One that we target is cell well thickening so that water is retained better. The second is maintaining osmolyte balance (salts and sugar) when the plant is facing any stress. The third pathway is to offer photosynthesis protection. When a plant is exposed to high temperature or water shortage, photosynthesis takes a beating and the efficiency drops drastically. Our product ensures that the process of food preparation goes on despite the heat stress. Our products for yield or growth have a different combination of biomolecules, and at a flowering or fruiting level, our products target flower to fruit conversion and fruit grade and quality, which has a direct impact on farmer income and profitability.

Also, when plants face extreme stress, it goes into programmed cell death, and some of our products are tailored to stop or reverse apoptosis.

How are you doing today, in terms of the impact of your work?

Our products are crop agnostic and compatible with all current agronomic practices enabling farmers to adopt these on a “as is where is basis” irrespective of farmland size. Bioprime has sold over 45,000 L of liquid products and 200 MT of granules. Our products have been used in 3 main crops – rice, wheat, and tomato.

For rice, our product has been used on 23,000 acres, where we contributed to an average of 300 Kgs per acre increase in productivity. These products helped increase the yield of rice by 6,900 MT, which translated to ~ 8 Cr worth of produce for 20,000 farmers. For wheat, our product has been used on 10,000 acres, where we contributed to an average of 380 Kgs per acre increase in productivity. These products helped increase the yield of wheat by 3,800 MT, translating to ~ 4 Cr worth of produce for 20,000 farmers.

On an average, these farmers earned INR 4000 extra per acre per season. 80% of these farmers were small and marginal farmers with less than 2 acres of land. Farmers were also able to reduce crop losses by 20-25% and save 10-15% on input costs

Similarly, we have been able to increase production in Tomato, chili, and potato in over 25000 acres contributing 10 Cr in revenue to almost 15,000 farmers. These farmers were able to earn INR 6500 extra per acre per season.

Bioprime also conducts crop-specific workshops and trainings for farmers to optimize yield and productivity and provides them with end to on farm advisory support. Besides this, we conduct workshops on soil nutrient estimation, weather advisory etc.

How was Bioprime’s journey funded?

Grant in aid
1. BIRAC Biotechnology Ignition Grant (BIG)
2. Unltd India Growth Challenge
3. NITI Aayog’s Atal New India Challenge (ANIC)
4. Upja Pusa IARI

Awards
1. BIRAC-TiE Women in Entrepreneurial Research
2. Social Alpha Agri Tech
3. Cisco Agri Tech Challenge

Investment
1. BIRAC SEED Fund (hosted by Venture Center)
2. BIRAC LEAP Fund (hosted by Venture Center)
3. Omnivore capital

What do you think were the key reasons for the success of BioPrime?

Ease of use, targeted fast action and batch-to-batch consistency help build farmer trust. Bioprime believes in “seeing is believing” and sets up farm demonstrations in large numbers. Bioprime also focuses on building a limited number but key partnerships that helps take Bioprime’s product to large number of farmers.

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