Democratizing Agri-tech and Environment-tech

Agriculture & environment

Climate change has started affecting agriculture and the environment across the globe.

The most effective way to address climate change is through agriculture and the environment itself, collectively known as the AFOLU sector (agriculture, forestry, and other land use). This sector has the highest potential to mitigate climate change in the short term according to IPCC AR6 WG3.


There are numerous initiatives that encourage people to engage in addressing climate change through the AFOLU sector. However, it is not without challenges like:

  1. The scale and speed required are not currently being attained.
  1. Progress made is sometimes undone due to avoidable catastrophes.

The questions that need to be answered are -

How do we encourage people to plant more trees when ones who do it for a living are still facing challenges?

How do we ensure the effectiveness of reforestation efforts when forests lack adequate protection and are at risk of illegal logging, clearance, wildfires, or poaching? [1] [2]


Leveraging technology could be one of the possible answers to overcome these challenges. The IPCC acknowledges the importance of technological advancements, considering them as an additional tool that could significantly enhance the potential of the AFOLU sector.

People are already exploring ways of using technology to this end – Coconut harvesting robot, Rainforest guardian sensor, Drone to fight deforestation


But these technological solutions need to be made better, more affordable, and easier to use so that it is reachable by all. We need to democratize it. Unless we can provide the right tools for every person who needs them, we won’t be able to tackle climate change at scale and meaningfully.

Many research labs are already working on achieving this – ERL, SAID lab, Earthsense

It is time to research, develop and deploy the next generation of this technology in India too.

Here are a few examples of such technology and their use cases -

  • Tree-climbing robots and harvesting drones that can ease the extraction of value from agroforestry or forestry in a sustainable manner – these could encourage people to plant and tend more trees since there is ­now a perennial incentive.
  • Sensor-deploying drones, which help set up nodes to detect forest fires, or perching drones that can monitor illegal activities – these could aid in rapid detection and response, thus preventing a substantial amount of vegetation and effort loss.

Above are some proofs of concepts/early-stage prototypes I’ve created. Making them available at a price point and the user-friendliness of a smartphone could help in accelerating positive change and multiplying the effort of people trying to do good work on the ground.

I would love to hear what the forum thinks of this approach.


Let me take up the example of a tree-climbing robot. I wanted to talk about it in the context of coconut harvesting and how this could be one of the catalysts for climate action at scale.

Sometime after I graduated college, I visited my hometown and heard my uncle’s concerns about the challenges with coconut farming due to a labor shortage. I wanted to help, so I dug into it and found that this issue extended far beyond his farm and was present across the globe.

The problem had several facets:

  1. There is a severe shortage of skilled labor for harvesting and pest control activities. The main reason is that it is too dangerous, and people no longer want to pursue it.
  2. Due to reduced climbs, diseases and pests spread in an unchecked manner, resulting in reduced yields. It also causes delayed harvests. Both of these decrease farmers’ income.
  3. In some Southeast Asian countries, the use of monkey labor has led to animal abuse and a decline in their populations in the wild.

Private studies and government surveys reached the following conclusions:


There is a need for an affordable and user-friendly coconut harvesting method that can be operated safely from the ground. While efforts have been made in this direction, none have succeeded in meeting all of the above conditions.

This motivated me to start a journey of research and prototype development. The path led to the creation of the tree-climbing robot prototype.

This is the current state-of-the-art solution – a tree-climbing robot developed by a PhD candidate at Hong Kong University in 2011.

The early-stage prototype I developed is twice as fast, three times more stable, and offers improved controllability and maneuverability. I firmly believe that with further research and development, this prototype can evolve into a game-changing product for the cultivation of not only coconuts but also other tree crops, potentially revolutionizing agroforestry. It addresses the demands of farmers at scale in India and other tropical nations by being an ecosystem-driven response, rather than intervening in their farming practices.

How can it play a role in climate action?

Direct Impact: By enabling coconut farmers to better care for their trees (e.g., monitoring for diseases, and applying pesticides and chemical inputs in a timely yet reduced quantity through precise spraying), the robot enhances tree health, elevating their carbon sequestration capabilities. This leads to improved yields, and on-time harvesting using this robot would augment farmers’ income and encourage more coconut tree planting or replanting. Furthermore, due to its lightweight and portability, the solution paves the way for integrated farming/multistrata agroforestry (as spacing requirements are reduced), thereby increasing farm productivity and biodiversity too.

Method of Deployment: This is the primary lens I am looking through. Sharing this product among multiple farmers represents the most effective utilization. This may involve local entrepreneurs adopting the tool to provide coconut harvesting as a service. With the support of the right backers, we could equip these entrepreneurs to become climate champions, akin to the Buzz Women initiative. Moreover, it allows us to make decisions prioritizing climate impact over income, for instance, opting not to deploy it in oil palm plantations.

The second point is why I strongly feel Rainmatter org would be the right partner. It would help in making climate-first decisions and provide an ecosystem to collaborate with other climate and social organizations present here.

I have not posted links to prototypes I developed publicly but have already emailed them to the Rainmatter org team. @Pai , @Sagar_Gudekote, Please let me know if I need to re-send the email or provide any other details. :pray:

I would love to get any input, feedback, questions, or criticism about this! Thanks :blush:

References –

  1. Labour availability in coconut cultivation and impact on technology adoption as perceived by coconut farmers [2013] Anithakumari, P -
  2. Price policy for Copra 2023 -
  3. globalEDGE Blog: Has Animal Labor Gone Too Far? >> globalEDGE: Your source for Global Business Knowledge
  8. Robotic ‘Harvesting as a Service’ Proves Cost-Effective in Trials by Fieldwork Robotics
  9. Multistrata Agroforestry | Project Drawdown
  10. Coconut-based integrated farming could help sequester carbon, improve farm productivity: study
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Thank you for sharing this here. Adding @chidellaabhinavsharm to coordinate with the Foundation team along with @Vikas and get back to you this week.

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Hi Kumar,

I am Philip from Novel Industries, a micro enterprise based in Pathanamthitta.

Really glad that you brought this topic up.

We are manufacturers of Novel Coconut Oil, currently the manufacturing of the coconut oil is outsourced to an established mill near to our place.

I have realized that a major problem with coconut farming is ignored in our state of Kerala is because of the method of manufacturing used in coconut oil, I meant the use of copra.

Using copra to manufacture coconut oil is like we all know an age-old method of producing coconut oil, but there is a problem with it, the climatic season we have.

During the rainy season, the demand of coconut decreases, because there is no proper mechanism to produce copra from the coconuts other than the sunlight, and this is a major reason why we lack coconut climbers today.

What happened is that, in this season due to the lack of sunlight, we cannot produce copra, because of which we did not harvest coconut and because of this, the climbers had to find other jobs for them to sustain.

As years went by, the climbers realized that the other jobs that they would take up would allow them to earn money consistently, this job would be cleaners, waiters, other daily wage jobs, etc., and thus they shifted from coconut climbing to other jobs and as years went by, we started facing shortage of climbers and thus we have that situation today.

Now, I had earlier mentioned about copra’s, which is the source of coconut oil and coconut oil is the most sort out commodity produced from coconut farming along with coir.

What I realized is that we should bring a process innovation into the production of coconut oil.

Instead of producing coconut oil from copra’s, we would harvest the coconut, then grate the coconut, dry it in an oven, mill the dry grated coconut, produce the oil, filter it and then packaging and selling.

I had tried doing this, not in an industrialized way but frying the grated coconut using a vessel and then milled it at a local mill and the result was startling.

We got around 70% of oil from the fried grated coconut with all its purity in control, this means that if we properly industrialize it, we will be able to produce a better quality of coconut oil than the other ones and thus a business can be built around it.

Your solution of coconut robots could be a catalyst in this business chain, the reason is, while working on this method, I realized that it is not so time consuming from harvesting to packaging because, with the addition of the climbing robots, we could start the manufacturing on order, rather than producing excess in quantity.

the major concern with copra in Kerala is the copra’s from Tamil Nadu, where they stack tons of copra’s from the previous year and sell it at an inflated price. My concern is not the inflated price, but the addition of Sulphur to the copra’s to preserve it is the problem and we could truly avoid a major health concern through this process innovation.

The only thing we need to work upon is development of an oven that would help us produce the fried grated coconut for production of the coconut oil.

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Thank you for the reply, @Pai ! I am looking forward to the discussion with the Rainmatter org team. Just wanted to mention that the email I sent has the subject title – “Seeking support for Agri-tech/Environment-tech Research.”

@philipnovel , thank you for such an in-depth and ground-level perspective of what is happening with respect to the coconut labour shortage, supply chain constraints, and challenges. I wasn’t aware of the negative health effects of sulfur-based preservatives! [link]

I would be very happy to see the solution I am working on playing a part in helping you solve this public health problem.

I suggest you have a look at this thread which talks about solar dehydrator and see if it or an upgraded version of it helps with the above.

Hi @a_kumar,

I had mentioned about the problem during the rainy season where there is lack of proper sunlight and heat at the same time in Kerala.

A solar dehydrator will go through the similar problem, here we can preserve the quality of the grated coconut will drying, which will actually help us in reduction of aflatoxin which actually happens due to un-hygenic method of drying, but again we may face an issue with the production process.