A New Lens for Agriculture: Giving Farmers Tools for Sustainable Resource Management

Ceres' innovative aerial images provide farmers with plant-level insights that empower them to sustainably manage water and fertilizer use.

Photo of Mike Guerin
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Ceres Imaging

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages and demonstrated success)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $1mil - $5mil

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 250 - 500

Organization type

  • For-profit

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • United States of America

Headquarters location: City

Oakland, CA

Location(s) of impact

USA: California USA: Hawaii USA: Indiana USA: Illinois USA: Ohio Australia: Victoria Australia: North Cape Australia: Queensland



Twitter URL


Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Ceres Imaging started its work in California during a historic drought. The problem then: growers, who use a substantial portion of the state’s water, needed to use water efficiently and sustainably. The most efficient micro-irrigation systems are prone to clogging, so Ceres aerial images showed farmers where to make fixes so water isn’t wasted. We hope to bring our unique product to developing markets to save water for small farmers we haven't served yet.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

Ceres does more than provide university-validated agronomic insights to farmers. We also train customers to understand patterns in their fields and identify opportunities for early intervention. When farmers learn these new irrigation techniques and best-practice management of pesticides and herbicides builds agronomic skills, it gives them sensitivity to environmental degradation and helps them manage the impacts of intensive land cultivation. Higher yields grown with better crop management increases wealth and improves livelihoods in rural and agrarian communities.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Ceres has prevented wasted resources and lost money for hundreds of growers in California, Hawaii, Australia, and the U.S. Midwest. In Hawaii, 86 acres of pineapple plants were saved from an unexpected irrigation issue that could have ruined the eventual harvest, which takes 2.5 years to mature. That's a victory for sustainable resource management. A California vegetable grower with 6,000 acres has been fixing broken irrigation and optimizing fertilizer with our product, saving them thousands of dollars and increase yields by tons per acre. These are examples of the value Ceres provides to its quickly growing customer base, which now includes six out of ten of the largest tree nut and vine growers in the world, and 10% of global almond industry. Our customers also include hundreds of family businesses. For them, managing water resources sustainably is synonymous with profits, and a sustainable business that earns their living.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

We’re a for-profit entity, backed by venture capital investors and are quickly growing our team to serve new markets. The majority of our financial support comes from earned revenue through commercial contracts. The Ashoka Prize, if we are fortunate enough to win, will offset the risks of creating a business model that works for small farmers in the developing world. That means creating a 100% earned-income business to help farmers in emerging markets improve productivity by reducing expensive inputs and environmental impacts. We may sell imagery, or partner with a government or NGO buyer for distribution. We would be happy to share additional details in a direct conversation with the prize committee.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

Ceres provides farmers with images that show plant-level detail and offer real insight. Part of the unique value comes from custom hardware and software that eight PhDs on our team developed using cutting-edge agronomy and hydrology. Part of the unique value we offer comes from research: we validated the product in a four-year study with scientists from the University of California system. This works as a two-way street: On-the-ground testing gives customers confidence and shapes our product.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

In 2012, Ashwin Madgavkar worked for a leading Brazilian sugarcane ethanol producer and saw that large-scale agriculture operations often still make blanket decisions in areas like fertilizer and pesticide use, leading to waste, productivity losses, and environmental damage. In surveying an agribusiness opportunity in Colombia, he saw further evidence of a need in the industry for advanced data sources. At Stanford, where Madgavkar earned an MBA, he took earth sciences classes and learned about phenomenal advances in spectral imaging that Stanford researchers, together with NASA, were applying to study Amazonian tree species and microclimates. Madgavkar founded Ceres in 2013 to develop the hardware, software, and know-how to help farmers of all sizes save water, fertilizer, and the planet.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Upon recommendation from others


Join the conversation:

Photo of Claire Galiette

This business model is clearly financially viable and creates shared value for all involved. I hope it can be replicated in the developing world!

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