Startup Mantra: AgriVijay is re-farming the eco-revolution in India

Published on Nov 20, 2021 04:26 PM IST

With a vision focussed on increasing farmer savings and incomes, reducing dependency on fossil fuels, along with contributing to the climate change mitigation, AgriVijay is “empowering farmers for tomorrow” with renewable energy products in solar, biogas, and electricity

Mother-son duo of Vimal Panjwani and Shobha Chanchlani (right) are the founders of AgriVijay. (HT PHOTO)
Mother-son duo of Vimal Panjwani and Shobha Chanchlani (right) are the founders of AgriVijay. (HT PHOTO)
BySalil Urunkar

AgriVijay, a Pune-based agritech startup founded by Vimal Panjwani and Shobha Chanchlani, in the midst of the Covid outbreak back in June 2020, has developed a marketplace for renewable energy products connecting farmers and rural households.

With a vision focussed on increasing farmer savings and incomes, reducing dependency on fossil fuels such as diesel and firewood, along with contributing to the climate change mitigation, AgriVijay is “empowering farmers for tomorrow” with renewable energy products in solar, biogas, and electricity.

In the beginning

A BTech in Bioinformatics and with an MBA in Agribusiness Management from Symbiosis Institute of International Business (SIIB) in Pune, Vimal Panjwani never thought that he would have his own startup, that too amidst a Covid-19 outbreak. Panjwani has a decade of experience working in different multinational companies.

While he was thinking of switching his role after quitting his job in February 2020, Covid happened and Panjwani was left clueless.

Says Panjwani, “I was at home with my mom, Shobha Chanchlani, a retired government employee from Rajasthan, when she said I can’t sit idle at home and want to do something in life. She asked me why I didn’t start my own company instead of building it for others? I was never inclined to become an entrepreneur, but she pushed me to become one. I was passionate for farmers and climate change and renewable energy. She was ready to invest all her funds and we thought let’s work on this.”

“I came up with an idea that farmers still struggle to get renewable energy products at the village level – whether you talk about solar, biogas, electric, wind or hydro; farmers don’t have knowledge about the product and they don’t get it at village level. So, we decided why not open a marketplace of renewable energy where we will understand the energy needs of farmers and help them increase savings and income and we will also mitigate the climate change issue which is need of the hour. AgriVijay was born as an idea,” Panjwani said.

Lockdown “child”

Panjwani wishes that farmers and everybody else in the ecosystem wins. “Vijay, in Hindi, means winning and farmers should feel the connect with our Indian company. Our vision is to make agriculture win with renewable energy. Hence, we named our startup AgriVijay, which was officially registered on June 25, 2020. This journey started from an apartment in Pashan during the Covid-19 lockdown period.”

Born and brought up in Ajmer, but settled in Pune, Panjwani had been to Rajasthan in November 2020. Meanwhile, he was working on the business model, idea, pitch deck, marketing. Stuck in Rajasthan due to lockdown, Panjwani launched operations from his hometown.

Says Panjwani, “We hired a small team including a field sales executive and decided to utilise local languages to communicate with the farmers to discuss their problems related to energy requirement. We started a call centre through which farmers started reaching out to us. After hearing their problems, we started recommending a renewable energy-based solution which can be a solar, biogas, electric or anything. Our field sales team started meeting farmers to discuss the energy needs with them. So, we decided we need to have two types of models – offline and online.”

Renewable energy stores

In the first few days itself Panjwani and his team realised that farmers don’t buy solar water pumps, solar inverters, biogas digesters or electric tractors online. “These are very capital-intensive products and farmers are not so comfortable buying these products online. So, we started our offline model which is called as renewable energy store model, which is at village level. These stores located in villages are opened by the businesses which were impacted by Covid and want a cash flow. Along with the cash business, we actually bring savings for rural community and also earn some income. That’s why this model worked very well. Our first store opened in December 2020 and then we started getting orders for solar pumps, solar inverters, biogas digesters. By the time we came to Maharashtra in February, we had already generated a good amount of business in Rajasthan. We had about 10 renewable energy stores by March 2021,” Panjwani stated.

Survival skills

Says Panjwani, “When we started in Maharashtra on April 15, 2021, we were witnessing the second wave and then again lockdown was announced. I think we were born in Covid and the challenge of the lockdown actually aggravated our needs, but made us more resilient. For more than 1.5 months we were locked in home, trying to communicate with farmers and deliver orders and complete the installations.”

“When the second lockdown opened, we grew very fast. In Maharashtra we now have 40 renewable stores activated in Maharashtra from June 2021 till date. We have covered the entire Vidarbha region. We have a branch office in Baramati with support of Atal Incubation Centre and Niti Aayog,” Panjwani added.

Teamwork

AgriVijay has a 15-member team spread across Maharashtra and Rajasthan. With offices in Baramati (Pune) and another one in Jaipur supported by Bajaj Foundation, AgriVijay has recently entered UK with their first international office. “We are joining the global climate change and sustainable development goals movement because we are hiring rural youth and training them to become renewable energy warriors. We are also building small rural businesses at village level as renewable energy stores,” says Panjwani.

“We have a field sales and technical team along with the call centre. Availability of renewable energy products only at the urban or semi-urban areas limits the options for the farmers to choose these products and become renewable energy producers. Our renewable energy stores educate farmers and their community about the renewable products and also make them available at village level.”

“We also do product recommendations, delivery and installation. We have 25+ companies in solar, biogas and electric as our partners at the head office level which gives us 150+ products range of huge renewable energy products for farmers. All these companies are either startups or other big brands such as Shakti, Toyota,” Panjwani stated.

Insurance and EMI

AgriVijay has now launched free solar insurance on renewable energy products. “Most of farmers and families were not switching to solar products because they feared that someone might steal the solar panel or natural calamities like heavy rains, sand dunes may damage the panel. Hence, we started giving free solar insurance against theft and damage so that farmers can switch to renewable energy easily with us. We are also launching easy EMI scheme from next month with one reputed NBFC and bank so that poor, small and marginal farmers can buy these products on easy instalments. By next month we will launch the EMI scheme in Baramati and Jaipur for farmers,” adds Panjwani.

Everybody wins

AgriVijay has touched the lives of 5,000 farmers and their families from Maharashtra and Rajasthan till date, claims Panjwani. “We have onboarded 100 farmers and their families with products such as solar water pumps, solar water heaters, solar inverters, biogas digesters, solar street lights, and we have mitigated thousands of tonnes of GHG and CO2 emissions in just 10 months. We want to open 1,000 renewable energy stores with 10,000 farmers/families. We are not just a marketplace. We are an Agritech social enterprise and we want to remain that. We want to scale our idea and product portfolio across rural regions of India, but at its own pace.”

Future plans

Says Panjwani, “After we raise our first round of funding, we want to scale our model to other states mainly Gujarat, Telangana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh where farmers are actually waiting to have an option to increase their savings and income. We also have a plan to open 1,000 renewable energy stores in next five years. We are trying to mitigate at least 100,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. We will soon open small offices and operation points wherever our stores are increasing.”

“We are also going to start our B2B department. We will work with CSR departments of companies who are looking to deploy funds or adopt a village or penetrate a renewable energy product in a village or do something with their CSR funds. We will help them make these products available, install and make the village or community savings or incomes increase. We will also add this to our portfolio as a revenue stream,” he added.

Challenge from traditional distributors

Says Panjwani, “Typically distributors deal with one particular product or technology or company. USP of AgriVijay is that we are multifaceted and the product range is huge. We have solar milk can chillers, solar dryers, biogas gensets, electric tractors, electric two wheelers. We are also adding electric charging stations - the infrastructure for renewable energy. Being multifaceted is why we are getting in direct competition with dealers and distributors at this time.”

Does it work?

“Earlier, we were paying 15 to 20 thousand on electricity bills for irrigating our vegetable farms. Now we are saving that money. We got a return on our investment on the Solar Water Pump installed by the AgriVijay team in just 1 year. We also got free solar insurance from the team making us feel secure against theft and damage from natural calamities.”

- Farmer Shahbuddin, Khanpura village, Rajasthan

“I took the AgriVijay franchise after COVID19 second lockdown. I have generated a profit of about 20,000 in three months by educating farmers and communities about and selling solar inverters, solar water heaters and pumps.”

- Swapnil Chandgude, Renewable Energy Store Owner, Baramati

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