Chennai based startup leverages the power of the internet to improve the lives of fishermen while ensuring sustainable fishing.
The Good, Bad and Ugly of Fishing
Many of us love to have fish curry, pakoda or sushi. India, being the second-largest producer of fish in the world, has tremendous potential to improve the lives of families that depend on fishing.
However, fishing communities are facing multiple problems. They aren’t visible in the public domain like farmers on land as their work areas are hidden from the masses. Because of the lack of infrastructure, there’s no data for the fish catch, its origin or traceability. Some fishermen also get embroiled in marine border issues and are imprisoned for months, if not years.
There are other emergent and less talked about issues like sustainable fishing and climate change. Over extraction of fish via trawlers, bomb fishing, electric fishing is harmful to marine life. It causes considerable loss to the sea-floor and biodiversity, with animals like turtles, eels, corals, etc being caught, hurt and left to die. The changing climate, rising sea levels, fluctuating catch yield and extreme weather events have made the seas more unpredictable and unsafe for fishermen. Their low savings and reliance on middlemen and purchasers increase their vulnerability further.
Chennai based Odaku has come up with an integrated, data-driven, business platform for fishers to ensure their safety and give them better returns. Its’ software solutions are leveraging the power of Data to enable the digital transformation of fishing communities thus making their lives easier.
A New Approach to Fishing
It was established in 2015 by brothers Xavier and Jenison Lawrance. Odaku is the shout of fishermen from South India when they have got their catch. Realising the need for data in the deep sea and navigation tools for fishermen, they started building a multipurpose navigation system. Belonging to a fisher family and experiencing the issues firsthand, they realised how the available solutions are disconnected from the ground, or rather, water realities.
Xaviers’ extensive experience in developing software and apps helped to create a GPS based marine navigation tool that doesn’t require the internet. It relies on satellite communication and Government messaging platforms to bring the rules related to marine navigation in a single place so that the fishermen don’t venture into no-go areas. They get information about sea rocks, fishing grounds, expected catch, bad weather, etc all on the same platform.
Odaku products bring the power of Big Data and Machine Learning to increase the catch and traceability. Thus, with their help, Fishing Net meets the Internet.
Data-driven fishing making a difference
The data generated while fishing helps stakeholders to monitor the catch quantity, location and origin. It also ensures transparency, traceability and sustainable fishing. This is a critical factor as other products that are available seem to be disconnected from the needs of fishermen. They were designed with the conventional software development approach and didn’t take into account the working conditions of the fishing communities. That’s where Odaku stands apart, having amalgamated the technological knowledge with the knowledge of the fishing domain for creating a product that can be easily used by the fishermen at sea.
Odaku focuses on the needs of fishing communities. It also helps to digitise and document the traditional knowledge of these communities as they are the specialist and know what is best for them and the environment.
It brings various stakeholders like Fishermen, Managers, Purchasers, Vessel owners, Government Representatives, NGOs on the same platform. The products have a simple interface with local language and symbols so that fishers can readily adopt it. Odaku’s cloud-based, people-centric products thus have been readily adopted by over 1,700 fishermen across the coastal states of India.
The Road Less Travelled
Being the pioneer in developing marine navigation products in India and gathering data in the sea where none used to exist earlier has been an uphill task. In order to integrate the software with fishing, Xavier used to go into the deep sea along with his engineering team to develop and test the product. This was a time and resource-intensive process that resulted in operational problems as well. The adoption has been slow, but the fishermen who have used it have realised its value.
Xavier takes pride in having reduced the losses of fishermen to the tune of Rs. 4-5 lakhs per family. Additionally, the fishermen are earning more with the higher catch.
The team has realised that if people like your product, they will support your work wholeheartedly. This was manifested when fishermen took Odaku to the fishery department and civil society to show its utility and ease of adaptability over other similar products. Odaku never focused on separate marketing channels and business development as their business was driven by word of mouth of the fishing community. That’s the power of ideas that are shaped by keeping the beneficiary at the core and add value to their lives.
The Journey Ahead
The team is aiming to scale up across India and later include B2C model apart from the current B2B. They conducted a product test where a customer at a restaurant or home can know the details about the origin of the seafood they’re about to have, see media and details about the fisherman who caught it and give reviews to them with the help of a QR code scan. This seamless media platform would require a robust supply chain, apart from significant resources.
Since there was no data about the origin and manner of fishing, thus monitoring and traceability was the missing link in the Indian fishing industry. Fishermen frequently find themselves on the wrong side of the law due to no fault of their own. Climate change and extreme weather events have made going out into the sea a riskier task compared to 2-3 decades back.
Due to Odaku’s work, fishermen feel safer while going into the sea. Its products can help improve the lives of neglected fishing communities, ease the burden of stakeholders and make fishing more sustainable. This ultimately benefits the Marine Ecosystem. Hence such products are critical in the current times where we are looking for solutions to the complex and interlinked problems around sustainable development, livelihood generation and people-centric development.
Article by Subhav Duggal, Team ulaunch.