Innovative food waste solutions that fit in your pocket - the story of InfyU LABS
By Sithasa Kanchanavijaya, Youth Co:Lab
In an ideal world, if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people. But in reality, many countries still live with food insecurity and deprivation while roughly one-third of the food produced for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted.
In India, 12 million tonnes of fruits and 21 million tonnes of vegetables are lost each year, with a total estimated value of 240 billion Rupees. A recent estimate by the Ministry of Food Processing is that agricultural produce worth 580 billion Rupees is wasted in India each year (Rediff News, 2007 cited in Lundqvist et al., 2008).
Food testing is apparently one of the biggest problems in India especially for fruits and vegetables. Conventionally, they need to be cut through, penetrated or peeled to inspect the quality inside. The process is inaccessible, time-consuming and costly, requiring technical staff, lots of food waste to get tangible results and extra sample transportation costs. If bad quality produce is accepted at the initial stage of the supply chain, it becomes unsellable by the time it reaches the consumer.
To tackle this problem, together the two friends, Amit Srivastava, CEO and Co-Founder of InfyU LABS and Ankit Chauhan, CTO and Co-Founder of InfyU LABS dreamed of creating an innovation hub where dreamers can work together to develop innovations that will solve daily challenges. To connect the dots, Ankit brought in his technical skills integrated with the agricultural know-how, and Amit brought in his expertise as an analyst and a strategist.
In 2019, InfyU LABS, based in Gujarat, began the journey with IoT-based products for quality assurance of fruits and vegetables that benefits every stakeholder in the food safety and supply chain. The innovative product developed at InfyU LABS helps carry out tests at scale and in a cost-effective manner, reducing food wastage at the testing stage. The innovation is a cost-effective portable product, developed by InfyU LABS, to help inspect fruits and vegetables at source without destroying the fruit, in the absence of technical infrastructure and without sophisticated and expensive machines.
The powerful, deep-learning algorithms incorporated in these products can help businesses generate the most accurate results to meet their requirements, all of which can be done at the procurement stage also helping save transportation costs. The accurate and instant test results have a detailed report of the chemical composition of the tested fruit or vegetable, accelerating the pace of critical decisions before accepting any consignment.
Before creating the high-tech devices that can fit inside pockets, Amit was already well-versed in the use of scientific light. Working at InfyU LABS is all about adapting another kind of light, infrared. As an avid astronomy enthusiast with professional experience in the field of Radio Astronomy from national and international laboratories under world renowned scientists, every day Amit and Ankit passionately work to develop business strategies and ideate new product technologies to reform the agricultural situation in their home country.
While Amit and Ankit want to bring the latest technology to the agriculture sector, they are however fraught with challenges. “The most challenging part is, to educate and make the local aggregators, retailers and farmers understand that we are here to support them, not to replace their jobs with technology,” Amit said. "We are dedicated to the democratization of food testing with a mission to make chemical-free quality fruits accessible to everyone. The aim is to reduce food wastage and improve food safety by using technology,".
A new journey for InfyU LABS started in 2019 when they joined Youth Co:Lab National Dialogue 2019 and later in 2020. They were nominated by Youth Co:Lab for the Google for Startups Advisor Program for SDG Startups where they engaged with Googlers and learned from their expertise to solve their problems. InfyU LABS also took part in Springboard Programme 2020 and Springboard PLUS 2021, and they were invited to pitch their project at the APFYLIE 2020 and Startup Impact Summit.
“Youth Co:Lab provided us with networking opportunities with other like-minded social entrepreneurs that we may not have found elsewhere,” Amit recounted. Their latest achievement was closing the seed round of funding with $242,000 from the Indian Angel Network (IAN). They would utilize that fresh capital to scale its deployment of devices for internal quality assessment of fresh FnV (fruits or vegetables) and boost its R&D.
“If you are creating something, you need to get validation. Entrepreneurs might keep ideating and creating but never realize that they have to let others use it, then get the feedback and build upon it,” Amit said he would give this advice to his younger self. “The mantra that we have learned is, ‘Learn to say ‘no’, learn to hear ‘no’ – and keep an open mind,” he said.
As for the current and future directions, InfyU LABS is now working to achieve the goals of bringing quality standardization under one umbrella, where different countries can remotely communicate with each other through one language of technology before even signing off on a consignment of perishables. And, for farmers to grow better quality produce with incentives, so they can get the price that they deserve based on the quality that they grow.
Click here to learn more about InfyU Labs.
Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.