The New Delhi headquartered agri technology and warehousing solutions conglomerate Sohan Lal Commodity Management (SLCM) has received a technical assistance grant of EUR 125,901 (Rs 1.11 crore) from the Technical Assistance Facility of Incofin agRIF fund (agTAF) and the Smallholder Safety Net Upscaling Program (SSNUP) towards the development of its quality application for food grains and pulses.
The European technical assistance grant is also the highest received for an Indian entity in the warehousing companies’ category.
SLCM was chosen for the grant from among a host of other global contenders consequent to a rigorous three-tiered selection process, in accordance with the agTAF procedure, that involved initial data gathering, proposal finalization screening, and its approval by a high-ranking committee comprising domain experts.
All proposals were meticulously examined by the agTAF committee against four parameters, namely their ability in enhancing financial and strategic performance; social, environmental performance and good governance; risk management and mitigation; and emergency support. These included assessing this year’s entries for improving the productivity and quality of smallholder farmers’ crops by providing them with better access to services and critical actionable information. Their role in improving the capacity of smallholder farmers to both comply with the certification process and to maintain it to facilitate their access to Fairtrade or other organic markets offering an organized value chain. Improving risk management practices to reduce or mitigate risk, including agro-lending schemes and other Agricultural Value Chain Financing (AVCF) models. And provisioning targeted emergency response packages to ensure continued operations during crises or other unprecedented circumstances.
The SSNUP committee evaluates projects based on a variety of criteria relevant to agricultural value chains including the demand, the scalable integration of smallholder households (SHS), sustainable farm practices, gender relevance, and food security. The committee also examines the organization’s engagement in the agricultural value chain, the financial and institutional self-sufficiency, the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) business practices, the capacity and commitment to deepen and expand business transactions, and the readiness to test or improve agricultural risk reduction and transfer solutions.
Speaking about selecting SLCM for the grant, the SSNUP Selection Committee, noted in a statement, “We think it’s a very interesting and innovative proposal that meets several of SSNUP’s priorities. The use of AI technology to disrupt the agro warehouse market by correcting information asymmetries and reducing transaction costs will benefit, if successful, not only smallholders households but the overall value chain, improving thus the ecosystem.”
Thanking agTAF and SSNUP for the trust reposed in the underdevelopment project, Sandeep Sabharwal, chief executive officer, SLCM, said, “The disruption caused at the beginning of Industry 4.0 has been further exacerbated by the global Coronavirus pandemic since late 2019. As a digitized enterprise, we at SLCM group are fully committed to pioneering widespread digitalization in our area of activity in the agriculture domain.
“In yet another bold step, we will be initiating the deployment of this AI and ML-enabled app towards our stated goal of achieving the vision of an electronically connected agricultural value chain. This grant of EUR 125,901 is an endorsement of our sustained efforts to digitalize processes for the ease of our stakeholders and customers, and our commitment to modernize India’s post-harvest agricultural value chain with cutting-edge technologies. We thank our investors, trading partners, and customers for the continued trust reposed by them in SLCM’s digital products and solutions.”
SLCM quality app: a first-of-its-kind ‘Made for India’ solution
The app that would be available for downloading on handheld devices like a smartphone or tablet PC will enable the trader or farmer to scan crop seeds for quality assessment. The app will be able to check multiple quality parameters for a variety of food grains and pulses like wheat, rice, chana (chickpea), guar (cluster bean), moong, and tur (pigeon pea) within minutes with up to 90% accuracy as compared to a lab test. The results will be automatically compared with pre-fed data in the back-end system, which will regularly update itself using machine learning (ML) with Python programming language, on a real-time basis.
Getting a quality control check done through this app will be as easy as taking an image. Just by clicking the photograph of the agri commodity and submitting it through the app will get it analyzed for image classification on crop type and its quality parameters. In return, the user will get a quality report with the photographic evidence evaluated on specifics like height, length, grid, colour, and pattern of the commodity within seconds.
Once SLCM mobile quality app gets rolled out in late 2021, its on-ground utilization will tremendously help to improve the fidelity of the commodity quality checks and disseminate the instantly obtained quality control results in a secure and transparent environment to drastically reduce the turnaround time in comparison to the task being performed manually. The app is expected to be a game-changer in India where, as per the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data, 70% of the population is dependent on farming and allied activities for sustenance.
The advanced app is a result of four years of intensive research by SLCM’s in-house team of experts. The company applied for a patent on it in August 2018.
At a time when the world’s second-most populous nation has targeted to double the farm income over the next couple of years, utilization of the app is expected to generate a better momentum to bring large-scale behavioral and institutional change and influence the adoption of digital technology throughout the Indian farming ecosystem.
agTAF, the Technical Assistance Facility of the agRIF fund, was launched in 2018 to foster the financial inclusion of smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs through the provision of tailored capacity building support to selected investees of the fund. agTAF is a EUR 2 million (Rs 1759.16 crore) facility jointly financed by the European Investment Bank (EIB), under the investment facility established pursuant to the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement, concluded on June 23, 2000, between the members of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States and the European community and its member states as amended from time to time, the Société de Promotion et de Participation pour la Coopération Economique S.A. (PROPARCO), the Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries (BIO) and the agRIF fund.
The Smallholder Safety Net Upscaling Programme (SSNUP) is a 10-year program that aims to strengthen the safety nets of 10 million smallholder households in Africa, Latin America, and Asia through technical assistance and investment in agricultural value chains, resulting in the improved well-being of 50 million low-income people. Funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Luxembourg Directorate for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, the SSNUP works as a facility to co-finance the technical assistance projects of impact investors active in the field. ADA ensures the coordination as well as the knowledge management component of the whole program.
Founded in 2009, the SLCM Group offers technology-driven warehousing services such as scientific storage for agriculture commodities, fumigation, testing and certification, and funding against storage receipts in India and Myanmar. The company currently has a network of 7,088 warehouses and has disbursed loans worth Rs 2307 crore in the last three years through its Kissandhan unit. The firm offers its services to farmers, processors, traders, and commodity exchanges. By June 2021, SLCM had directly impacted the livelihoods of over 7.64 million people and positively touched the lives of another 38.23 million people.