Startups Are Leading To Vital Changes In India’s Farm Sector

By Karan Kashyap

A Boston Consulting Group study titled “The Rising Connected Consumer in Rural India” has stated that by 2020 around 315 million Indians living in rural areas will be connected to the internet in the future, as compared with about 120 million now. This forecasted increase can be attributed to Government’s schemes such as A Digi Gaon(Digital Village) initiative and Bharat Net project, which provides access to high-speed broadband connectivity, along with WiFi hotspots and other low-tariff digital services to more than 150,000 self-government organizations in the hinterlands called gram panchayats; thereby leading to transformation in rural agricultural India in terms of internet connectivity.

As nearly 70% of rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, farmers are forming a very significant chunk of this population now accessing the internet in rural areas. They have started sharing information via popular communication apps on mobile phones, which enable them to get advisory services for growing their crops. In order to cater to these customers, almost all agri-tech startups have commenced operations to build mobile apps to solve problems related quality of soil, weather prediction, pests, disease control, equipment, prices in markets,  and storage of grain produced.

Soil Quality in Fields

Bengaluru based startup Nubesol technologies creation – a messaging app called “Krishi Suchak” (meaning agricultural messenger in Hindi) enables farmers to communicate with eminent agricultural scientists, and discuss the factors contributing to poor yield. Every request received through the app is analyzed using a bot which sifts through the messages. Farmers who have problems typing or explaining their requirement in text can record their voice and send it as a query via this Android app.

In addition to crop and pest consulting, the app features “Remote Sensing Technology” (RST), which helps farmers identify weak areas in the land and increase their yields. Remote Sensing highlights the less nutritious part of the land in red. This service is available at a cost of less than $4 (Rs 250) per year. The app also includes a “soil testing” feature which displays the balance of nutrients in the soil. To avail of this facility farmers often request a soil test done by sending soil samples from the land to nearby labs.

Agricultural Labour And Equipment

The Agrihub is a startup that sells agricultural equipment including crop covers, sowing trays and greenhouse instruments on its online platform. Online sales are yet to pick up in all sections of the farming community, especially among marginal farmers who make up the bulk of India’s agricultural community. Most of these farmers rely on manual labor as they cannot afford capital equipment such as farm implements, tractors and harvesters. A lot of these products or services find early adopters in wealthier and progressive farmers with large land holdings, not the small and marginal farmer. The real business lies in getting your services adopted by the small farmer because that is where scale is going to come from.

To solve this problem a Benguluru based startup called EM3, which has served about 35,000 farmers in Madhya Pradesh and claims to see a 90% repeat rate among its existing user base, now offers an entire range of interventions from soil preparation to harvesting, where farmers pay a service fee calculated on a per-hour or per-acre basis.

Pest And Disease control

Accel Venture fund backed Agrostar and IvyCap funded RML AgTech are investing approximately $857,900 (Rs 5 crore) each in building groundbreaking image recognition technology. This technology enables farmers to receive real-time data on the pest or disease that has affected a crop, offering a solution in a minute, just by scanning a picture taken with a smartphone. While Agrostar is carrying out pilot programmes to test this technology in Gujarat, it plans to initially not charge any money for this feature. The image recognition feature on RML AgTech’s paid app, called crop doc, is available in multiple regional languages and has already been used by up to 8,000 farmers across Maharashtra; it offers a basic version of its app for free. However, it charges anywhere between $15 and $47 (Rs 1,000 and Rs 3,000) annually for the full version with image-recognition technology built-in.

Storage Facilities

Along with diseases, In India, most of the farmers struggle with rodents that eat away their produce in ill-equipped warehouses. As a result, farmers are forced to sell their produce cheap, immediately after harvesting, rather than warehousing yields and waiting for grain prices to appreciate in the off-season. Now, thanks to micro-warehousing facilities offered by Ergos, that is likely to change.

With help of Ergos’ mobile phone app that lists held stock in its warehouses and real-time market price of grains, crop growers can store grains in good condition and sell their stock when the desired price is reached. Ergos charges $.094 – $.187 (Rs 6-12 ) per quintal (per month) as warehousing cum price advisory charges. If he requires cash immediately, the farmer can also use the warehouse receipt to obtain loans from banks that include established names IDBI and SBI.

Most of these agri-tech startups have realised that farmers are not willing to pay for just stand-alone advisory services; since agricultural officers at government-owned “Krishi Bhawans” (meaning building for agriculture in Hindi) can serve the same as free counsellors.  In order to scale up in larger numbers in the future, these enterprises need to diversify their services into farm management software, data analytics, crop prediction, and livestock management.

These startups also require people in the field to hand-hold farmers, who needs to be trained to become self-sufficient in implementing these solutions. By with providing access to practical, reliable and trusted information in a sector that is a principle source of livelihood of more than 50% of India’s population, these startups are increasing productivity, bridging knowledge gaps, and making a huge difference in the way work is done in fields.

Source: Forbes

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