Raj comes across as a mild-mannered, unassuming guy who drops massive truth bombs when you least expect them. Quite early in our conversation, Raj said, “India is the world’s largest exporter of frozen prawns and the second largest aquaculture producer behind China.” Absolutely crazy, right? It had me hooked on his every word.
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Rajamanohar “Raj” Somasundaram is on a mission to disrupt India’s inland fishing industry through his startup called Aquaconnect. He considers aquaculture to be one of the most sustainable protein production value chains in the world, which justifies him with another interesting fact.
“Every 8 kg eaten by cattle or cattle produces about 1 kg of beef,” says Raj. “Similarly, the equivalent of 1 kg of lamb requires 4 kg of animal feed, for 1 kg of chicken or poultry, it takes about 2.5 kg of feed.” But for fish or shrimp, this ratio is lowest at 1:1.2, according to Raj, “To get 1 kilo of fish or shrimp harvested, you need to feed the fish or shrimp only 1.2 times his body weight.” It would be safe to assume that most fish eaters – including me – are completely unaware of these behind-the-scenes calculations and the realities of sustainable fishing.
Solve the problems of aquaculture farms
As a comprehensive platform, Raj’s Aquaconnect provides end-to-end services to various stakeholders including the fish farmer at the heart of his business. And as things stand, there are some major issues plaguing the aquaculture and fish farming industry.
For shrimp, it takes about 4 to 5 months for the baby shrimp to grow to harvest and for fish, it takes about 8 months, according to Raj. Sanitary management of fish and shrimp during all these months is an important aspect of aquaculture. “Up to 60% of the cost is spent on feeding the fish, which includes pharmaceuticals and various types of start-up investments,” says Raj, stressing how much farmers need to get scientific data. , which they currently don’t get. currently they only get biased advice from some pet food companies who want to sell their own feed to producers.
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Another key issue is getting financing from banks, says Raj. “Banks avoid adding huge value to aquaculture because they are unable to come up with risk assessment and mitigation strategies because everything happens underwater,” he says. This prevents the aquaculture industry from entering formal capital inclusion, as intermediaries provide lines of credit to farmers who are not paid on the day of harvest, Raj argues. Similar challenges exist for retailers and brands wishing to engage massively in the import and export of aquaculture, which Aquaconnect tries to solve holistically.
Technology for aquaculture
As a pioneer in complete aquaculture, Aquaconnect is always in touch with farmers and their farms. In addition to tracking how much farmers buy from input retailers and how much they sell to buyers through their platform, Raj’s startup has developed a non-intrusive data capture mechanism that is the first of its kind. He says, “We use satellite remote sensing to get real-time, dynamic information about the pond. »
Besides the eyes in the sky, Aquaconnect deploys boots in the field through partners who provide certain information on the age of the shrimp or the fish farm, the approximate time of harvest and the volume of harvest. “We can also validate these facts through machine learning algorithms we’ve built for satellite imagery, places where we can zoom in and analyze individual ponds,” says Raj, indicating how white streaks in the water mean an active and healthy pond. “By looking only at the color of the water from the satellites in the sky, we can identify the water oxygenation levels of the fish farms. Based on the activity levels of the pond, we are able to understand various parameters related to ground fish farming and create a comprehensive credit risk management platform, which has never been done before. before,” according to Raj.
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When I ask Raj to explain how Aquaconnect’s business model is different from Licious, he explains through the scalability perspective. “Licious wants to do everything by itself in a direct-to-consumer model, so it’s kind of a closed value chain,” which is hard to scale after a certain point, says Raj. Community support is huge for success in the aquaculture business, which makes Aquaconnect unique, he says.
“There are people already serving the aquaculture industry in India, and it is already commercialized as 75% of India’s seafood production comes from inland fish farms,” says Raj, pointing out how it is a $25 billion industry globally. “Our goal is to solve some problems for input retailers, farmers and buyers by bringing them all together in one technology platform. We facilitate buyers, which ultimately benefits farmers and ultimately buyers. That’s how we grow. »
Sustainability and ambition
On the one hand, Aquaconnect improves the way of doing business in terms of access to finance for farmers, but on the other hand, it also increases supply chain efficiency, according to Raj.
“We have to talk not only about responsible production, but also about responsible consumption,” Raj unequivocally stresses, “because whatever you produce, you have to consume responsibly.”
To do this, at the supply chain level, “we strive to reduce waste. We are talking about recycling on the consumption side and improving the quality of life of the whole value chain, because seafood is good and improving the efficiency of its operational production is the ‘one of the best ways to solve the challenges facing modern nutrition,’ says Raj.
This ties in with Raj’s original point about the importance of shrimp and fish farming not only for the world’s protein consumption needs but also for India’s food security.
“India produces nearly 14 million metric tons of seafood annually from domestic farms, of which about 800,000 metric tons are exported (mostly prawns), so the rest of the 13 million metric tons of fish is consumed in the domestic market,” Raj reveals, highlighting the magnitude of the opportunities offered in the domestic market in terms of professionalizing the value chain. As a general rule, fish is consumed within a radius of 200 km around its point of production in India, always playing the second role after poultry. Fish requires cold storage and supply chain interventions that poultry does not, says Raj.
“If you’re a single person living alone in town and you love seafood, but can’t cook it because you have to go to the wet market or order from brands like Licious which have a high profit margin” , sighs Raj. “Small towns and the hinterland are still a long way from consuming high-quality on-demand fish fillets and ready-to-eat prawns in India, because productization has yet to happen – the right packaging, the good product decisions haven’t happened on a large scale in this country,” he says.
“And that’s basically our ambition,” says Raj. “How do we enable agriculture to connect to national and international demand markets? Can we meet the demand for farmed fish within 10 km of its harvest? So these are big structural challenges that we are currently solving, with the right amount of capital and innovative technological intervention,” he says.
The next time you bite into a shrimp cocktail at home or in a restaurant, definitely compliment the chef and ask yourself if the efforts of Aquaconnect and Raj behind the scenes played a role in the preparation of your meal. Enjoy your lunch!
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