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Reviving Traditional Farming with Modern Tech: A Journey with Usha Devi Venkatachalam

Merging High-Tech Solutions with Age-Old Practices to Empower Smallholder Farmers
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Devin: What is your superpower?

Usha: It may not sound like a superpower, but I will explain why it is my superpower. My superpower is that I don't belong. I don't belong anywhere.

In today’s episode of Superpowers for Good, I had the pleasure of interviewing Usha Devi Venkatachalam, the Founder and CEO of Krishi Janani PBC. Usha’s journey is a fascinating blend of technology and traditional farming methods, a juxtaposition that holds immense promise for the future of agriculture, especially in the least developed parts of the world.

Usha, a computer engineer with extensive experience in developing software solutions globally, hails from a multi-generation farming family. She eloquently shared her realization of the stark contrast between the nutrient-rich produce of her grandparents’ era and the vitamin-depleted crops of today. This insight led her to explore regenerative agroecology, which she describes as “a new name for my grandparents' method of farming.”

Regenerative agroecology focuses on restoring soil health by mimicking traditional farming practices. Usha explained, “Our soil has been depleted so much that for the same amount of vitamin A that my grandparents would have gotten with their method of farming in one orange, I need to eat eight oranges today.”

Krishi Janani has developed an innovative ecosystem called the Giannini Region Ecosystem, consisting of an agri-tech platform, events and trainings, and regional labs. These components work together to digitize and disseminate knowledge from traditional farming practices, making it accessible to smallholder farmers via technology. Usha highlighted, “Technology alone will not solve any problem. It needs to function in a social, political, economic context.”

By utilizing this platform, farmers can access information on regenerative practices, attend trainings, and even visit showcase farms. Usha’s vision includes not only helping farmers increase their yield and reduce costs but also building climate resilience and promoting sustainable agriculture.

Krishi Janani’s revenue model is equally innovative, deriving income from farmer trainings, corporate partnerships, and startup collaborations. This multi-faceted approach ensures that they can continue to support and expand their mission.

Usha’s blend of traditional wisdom and modern technology is truly inspiring. Her work exemplifies how innovative solutions can address some of the most pressing agricultural challenges of our time. I’m excited to see how Krishi Janani will continue to grow and impact the lives of farmers around the world.


tl;dr:

1. Overview and Mission: Usha Devi Venkatachalam, CEO and founder of Krishi Janani, discussed her initiative that applies high-tech solutions to smallholder agriculture in less developed regions, focusing on regenerative agroecology, which aligns with the traditional farming methods of previous generations.

2. Background and Inspiration: Usha's background as a computer engineer with experience in over 20 countries, combined with her family's multi-generation farming heritage, led her to this venture. She emphasized the decline in soil quality and nutrition since the Green Revolution and the need to return to more sustainable farming practices.

3. Technological Integration: Krishi Janani is developing a comprehensive ecosystem—consisting of an agritech platform, regional labs, and farmer training events—to support and promote regenerative agriculture. Farmers can access digital knowledge, on-ground training, and product marketplaces through this integrated system.

4. Revenue Model: The company generates revenue through paid training sessions for farmers, commissions from sales facilitated through their platform, corporate partnerships for climate resilience and sustainable sourcing, and collaborations with startups for scaling innovative agricultural solutions.

5. Vision and Scale: Usha aims to expand their model internationally by licensing their software and ecosystem approach, supported by ongoing fundraising efforts. She stresses the importance of combining technology with traditional farming practices to create sustainable agricultural solutions.


How to Develop Not Belonging As a Superpower

Usha’s superpower is "not belonging." This unique perspective allows her to bridge gaps between different cultures, technologies, and practices. By not fully aligning with any single group or ideology, she can see the strengths and weaknesses of each and integrate the best elements into her work, fostering innovative solutions.

In the interview, Usha shared an illustrative story about her work connecting traditional farming practices with modern technology. Growing up in India and later moving to the U.S., she experienced firsthand the benefits and drawbacks of different agricultural practices. By not fully belonging to either culture, she could objectively evaluate the Green Revolution's impact. This perspective enabled her to integrate traditional, regenerative farming methods with high-tech solutions, helping smallholder farmers improve soil health and sustainability.

Tips for Developing the Superpower:

  1. Travel Outside Your Comfort Zone: Visit places and experience cultures different from your own to gain new perspectives.

  2. Travel with Humility: Approach new experiences with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

  3. Embrace Diverse Viewpoints: Engage with people and ideas different from your own to broaden your understanding.

  4. Reflect on Your Experiences: Take time to consider how different environments and cultures influence your thinking and approach to problems.

  5. Seek to Build Bridges: Use your unique position to connect disparate ideas and communities, creating innovative solutions.

By following Usha’s example and advice, you can make "not belonging" a skill. With practice and effort, you could make it a superpower that enables you to do more good in the world.

Remember, however, that research into success suggests that building on your own superpowers is more important than creating new ones or overcoming weaknesses. You do you!


Guest Profile

Usha Devi Venkatachalam ():

Founder & CEO, Krishi Janani PBC

About Krishi Janani PBC: Janani is a tech-powered ecosystem enabling farmers' transition to regenerative agroecology to build climate resilience. The Janani Regen Ecosystem consists of an agritech platform with tools and services for transition, events and training to learn regenerative practices, and regen labs to implement innovative scaling models.

Our mission is to orchestrate a regenerative and climate-resilient agriculture and food ecosystem that nourishes soil, water, biodiversity, farmers, consumers, and the planet.

Website: www.krishijanani.org

Company Facebook Page: fb.com/janani.regen

Other URL: crowdfundmainstreet.com/campaigns/33i5kjtr/

Biographical Information: Usha Devi Venkatachalam is the Founder and CEO of Krishi Janani, the social enterprise behind the Janani Regen Ecosystem, which enables farmers to transition to regenerative agroecology and builds climate resilience in communities.

She is a technologist who has implemented software solutions and conducted capacity-building training in more than 20 countries. Her professional expertise is in architecting sustainable, culture-specific, and locally appropriate technology solutions in resource-constrained environments.

This, combined with her family’s agricultural roots, has resulted in the Janani Regen Ecosystem.

Work & passion: technology + agriculture + food + rural livelihoods + social change.

X/Twitter Handle: @nadodi

Personal Facebook Profile: fb.com/nadodi

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/nadodi/

Instagram Handle: @janani.regen


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We host changemakers who are using regulated investment crowdfunding for social impact--impact crowdfunding--as impact investors or social entrepreneurs, catalyzing change with leadership skills we call superpowers.