Daniel Zillante is the CEO and Co-Founder of Zilper Trenchless, a Cambridge-based trenchless technology startup that specializes in creating cost-efficient equipment for infrastructure projects. From winning the MIT DesignX Demo Day competition to taking home more than $425k from the Rice Business Plan Competition, Zilper Trenchless is quickly gaining momentum. Daniel sat down with us […]
Flood and (Dam)age Control: Solutions from Space
Hear how three aerospace engineers are revolutionizing climate solutions in India
From prolonged dry spells to devastating floods, cities around the world are increasingly facing climate whiplash. In 2019, Pune, an Indian city of more than five million residents, was hit by extreme droughts that left thousands without clean water. In 2020, flash floods rained down on the city, claiming 22 lives, and displacing over 3,000 inhabitants.
But Pune isn’t alone. Across southern India, communities have been forced to confront increasingly unpredictable monsoon seasons. With over 50% of India’s population employed in agriculture, more than 200M farmers are becoming more and more vulnerable to climate change. Floods, now increasing in frequency, are leading to continuous water logging in farmer’s fields. In October alone, over 123k hectares across Maharashtra reported crop damage due to heavy rains.
SatSure, an Imagine H2O Asia portfolio company, has risen to this challenge. By layering large-area satellite imagery over weather and climate data, SatSure’s algorithms generate far-reaching insights with enhanced precision. They provide farmers with crop and soil advisory, help financial institutions integrate climate-risk into new farmer-friendly insurance products, and inform dam managers on better flood risk practices.
In the past three years, SatSure has enabled 2M farm loans and processed over 500k farm insurance claims. Why is this important? With floods leading to damaging losses, farmers are forced to take on more loans, and enter a cycle of indebtedness that is difficult to break. To make matters worse, lending options are often limited. Financial institutions are unfamiliar with measuring climate risks and are ill-equipped to track crop performance — especially when dealing with thousands of smallholder farmers.
SatSure Sage uses satellite, ground-level and drone data to monitor a farmer’s entire crop cycle. When its proprietary machine-learning and algorithms kick-in, results are accessed on a user-friendly dashboard which provides actionable crop intelligence ranging from yield to productivity predictions.
With SatSure, farmers assess the impact of heavy rainfall or extended dry spells — empowering them to adjust practices to reduce potential losses before it’s too late. At the same time, banks and insurance companies benefit from accessing accurate and real-time data to inform farm credit risk. This is vital to unlocking insurance and loans to farmers, and also provides the data and analytics required to efficiently process farmer claims.
Currently, SatSure is working with the second largest private bank in India to monitor one million km2 on a weekly basis, covering 95% of their crop loan portfolio. Within a span of two years, SatSure has enabled a 15% increase in farmers paying back their loans, helping add 84,000 new farmers as customers. They have also recently partnered with Axa Climate Insurance and Reliance General Insurance to provide them with crop monitoring and predictive analytics services. These groups then engage banks to further de-risk farmer loans.
“Using SatSure’s solutions, we married the eye in the sky advantage with our boots on the ground, which helped us improve the efficiency of loan recoveries by 28%.”
– Product Strategy Head of the 2nd largest private sector bank in India
Farmers aren’t the only ones struggling with wild weather swings. Dam managers are also ill-equipped to manage the increasing number and intensity of floods. Traditionally designed to help control floods, dams have inadvertently become triggers for the very disasters they were intended to mitigate. Last year, 29 dams in Gujarat overflowed for four consecutive days due to continuous rainfall, with Rajkot city’s overflowing dam impacting the drinking water for 1.5M people. Similarly, Kerala’s 2018 monsoon rains forced 35 dams to release water to manage rising reservoir levels which threatened the security of millions of residents in downstream communities.
Yet, conventional weather forecasts continue to fall short. Low-accuracy and lack of predictive capabilities have forced dam managers to rely solely on guesswork when managing heavy rainfall or changing upstream flows.
In response, SatSure has developed new hydrological models for real-time scenario planning based on a wider range of data sources. These include satellite-derived high resolution Digital Elevation Models (DEM), which are 3D representations of terrain that map water flow and predict when a dam reaches maximum capacity. With these improvements, dam managers are better mitigating the disastrous impacts that often accompany erratic weather events.
“SatSure’s work was instrumental in designing the crop water requirement for facilitating irrigation coverage expansion of an existing dam by 150,000 hectares of land.”
– Prateep Basu, CEO of SatSure
Ultimately, SatSure works in the business of improving decision making. Whether the user is a rural farmer preparing for a heavy rainfall event or a dam operator evaluating the impact of changing weather conditions on local reservoirs, SatSure is breaking down the barriers to new data-driven decision making for stakeholders at the frontlines of climate disruption. Cities like Pune stand to win when preventive actions displace the familiar, reactive approaches of the past.