These Tamil Founders Behind Agritch Startup Dunya Habitats Want To Alleviate Food Security Globally

Dunya Habitats’ founding team is made up of siblings (Sugeevan and Sumi Shanmuganathan) and Dr. Shivajan Sivapalan who came together to support Sugeevan’s founding vision to help minimize food scarcity issues in Indigenous and refugee communities.

Working hand-in-hand with farmers, The Dunya Project and the Dunya Habitats that are manufactured aim to provide measurable and sustainable solutions to mitigate and adapt to conditions where climate change and water scarcity are affecting crop productivity and food security. I had a chance to speak to the team about their journey.

I love the mission and story behind Dunya Habitats.  Tell us about how long it took to go from idea to working prototype in the field.  What were some challenges that were faced along the way?

Dunya defines possibilities.  What can be done regardless of the challenges stacked up against you. A transformational change to help put the power of production into the hands of those that need it the most. Our parents were dreamers, especially our father.  Normally, parents keep their children grounded to protect them from ever failing… fearing the emotional burden failure can place on a child.

But our parents were the opposite.  They always made us shoot for the moon.  Sadly, having to leave the land of their birth due to civil inequalities that did not allow them to reach their dreams – drove their desire to provide us with opportunities to grow.  Our amma is no longer with us but having come from humble beginnings – coupled with our appa’s social activism – they inspired us to dream of a world where hunger and starvation are no more. 

Dunya Habitat’s tinyFARM® (PCT Patent pending) is a scalable modular commercial-grade hydroponic system with precision farming software for remote monitoring and data collection to optimize growth. tinyFARM® can grow a variety of fruits and vegetables year-round, in 4-week cycles and with minimal water, land, and no pesticides. Enabled by the future of farming technology – Ammah®, Dunya’s AI driven IoT-based precision farming sensor interface platform to remotely monitor growth, provide data collection and optimize overall crop yield.

The idea originated a few years back, during a pitch competition that Sugeevan participated in at OCAD University along with 500 other schools worldwide.  The competition put on by the Hult Prize and the Clinton Foundation looking at ways to ‘restore human dignity and rights to millions of displaced people by 2022.’  Sugeevan and his teammates made it to the regionals in Boston for North America, coming in second to a team from Harvard in their round. It just so happened that at the same time  – our appa was also working on a greenhouse project in the Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka – to help teach new sustainable ways to farm when dealing with droughts and pests. Combining the essence of the two – Dunya was born.  

Currently, the team has a commercial prototype that is being tested and fine-tuned with a local farmer in Kingston, Ontario. Getting to this stage, working amidst a global pandemic has not been easy.  The first year was spent on building the proof-of-concept with our basic precision farming sensor interface integration and validating with various markets.  Having self-funded, bootstrapped and being able to count on a small pre-seed investment from our advisors have greatly helped the team get to this stage.

Tell us about some wins as well that you’ve had so far that you’re proud of.

The Dunya team has been fortunate to receive recognition here at home in Canada and abroad.  Most recently, we won a pitch competition and were chosen as the ‘People’s Choice’ Award at the Ontario Environment Industry Association (ONEIA)’s Quick Pitch event.  We were 1 of 15 finalists for Cisco’s Global Problem Solver Challenge in 2019 amongst thousands who applied globally – invited and exhibited at Web Summit and Collision Tech.  

Most importantly, even though we are pre-launch – we’ve had sales tractions domestically, and LOIs for units in Europe and Africa. Equally, we have started outreach and received interests from the big players in food security initiatives such as the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP).

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