When Ronald Boehm visited ISB (Hyderabad) in 2009, and met Nishant Banore, the founder of Social Cell, it was only a matter of time before the duo were sourcing and developing products such as solar lamps, plant growth regulators, etc. They even developed a ‘Water wheel’,using which even a 10-year-old could drag 40 litres of water with ease across rough terrain.
One year later, in late 2010, DestaGlobal was born.
Today, lack of information is one of the biggest challenges farmers face as they have no means of getting relevant information about products, their efficacy, and costs. In order to tackle this problem, the company created a B2B online marketplace DestaMart.com, which serves as a vehicle to bring together qualified and validated suppliers and agri-stores (dealers) to increase the efficiency of the agri-input supply chain. Suppliers (sellers) can display, list, promote, and sell their products on the portal to a focused target audience as part of a network of agri-store owners.
Buyers can utilise the portal to access a large variety of products and place orders based on their requirements in a streamlined manner at the click of a button. The product includes field-crop and vegetable seeds, plant nutrition products, plant protection products, farm implements, irrigation products and animal husbandry products.
Initially, DestaGlobal was started as an offline-only model with an intention to help the most deprived farmers in Vidarbha. Later in 2014, they decided to turn the offline business model into an online one and hired Mohnish Sharma as a CEO of DestaGlobal. Today, DestaGlobal aims to improve the livelihood of farmers and increase their income by 10 per cent. So far, Desta Global has signed up with 11,000 farmers, 23 sellers, and over 200 dealers.
Mohnish says, “We buy all our products from the manufacturers directly without distributor intervention. This ensures that the products are not spurious. Also, because the product categories are heavily regulated (like the pharmaceutical industry), there are a lot of government licenses that are required for manufacture, distribution, storage, and sale. We ensure that we keep a copy of all the licenses on record and then we conduct a preliminary cross-checking from government websites to confirm validity.”
DestaMart claims it products are priced 10 per cent lower than market price. As agriculture is a time-sensitive industry, it directly correlates to demand and supply. For example, in the seed industry, orders are taken at the beginning of the year to forecast demand, and only a limited quantity is produced given the short shelf life of one year. Now,if a farmer decides to change his crop and plant something new, it is tough to find seeds since they are already pre-booked.
“We were able to connect a buyer to a seller who didn’t have a market in that area when he had extra stock. The dealer also made a sale and the farmer could sow the crop of his choice,” says Mohnish.
To ensure the timely delivery of the products to dealers, DestaGlobal has tied up with C&F agents at four strategic locations in Maharashtra i.e. Nagpur, Pune, Akola and Nashik.
DestaTalk is an online information portal targeted at farmers that provides relevant information, education, and news on agriculture, and the agri-business. This is particularly relevant in a country like India where agriculture is largely dependent on the monsoon, which is erratic, both in timing and in distribution across geographies.
DestaTalk covers weather updates, changes in prices at the local mandi, government policy and subsidy- related alerts, emerging industry and price trends, changes in agricultural practices, farmer success stories, pioneering technologies and innovations, expert views and advisory, amongst others.
Mohnish says, “Since our goal is to increase farmer income, it is incumbent on us to reach farmers and tell them the tools and techniques they can use to that end. Also, DestaTalk gives us a means to reach directly reach the farmers, which can be used to create demand for DestaMart-listed products.”
The content is curated by DestaTalk editors from existing sources–government websites, universities, agriculture experts, etc. The company has also created an online product library that will list basic information on “all” agriculture products available in the market. The goal is to create a central repository of agri-product information that can be used by farmers to search, compare, and evaluate available products.
The product library will have two sections: Basic, which will be free and will publicly list available information about the product (on the product label). The enhanced version will be subscription-based for sellers and will have testimonials, how-to instructions, and dos and don’ts.
The primary customers for DestaTalk are farmers while the suppliers of information will include all agri-input industry stakeholders – suppliers, government, academia, research community, farmers themselves and NGOs.
Currently, DestaTalk’s revenue sources are online advertising, sponsored content, enhanced listings of products, charges for listings, and more.
Mohnish points out that DestaTalk has in-house content writers and agriculture experts who draft the content. They are part of various farmer WhatsApp groups and visit Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) quite regularly to get first-hand information from farmers on their issues, concerns, and requirements.
“For now, our primary target audience is the Western Maharashtra belt i.e. Pune and Nashik regions, Konkan region, Nagpur and Marathwada. Based on our research, about 70 per cent of farmers have access to smartphones/desktops. It could be through their kids, neighbours, influencers, or even local mobile store owners if they don’t own a phone themselves.”
The duo believes that traditional marketing activities don’t have a very high impact in the rural market, especially in the agriculture space.In April 2015, DestaTalk organised an online photo contest for farmers as a small project in two districts. They received over 300 entries when they asked for entries via WhatsApp. There was a voting system and the photo with the maximum votes won a cash prize of Rs. 50,000.
“The winning photo had 4,377 votes and more than 13,000 views. Overall, we had 1,70,000 visits and 23,000 votes!We visit andparticipate in various agriculture exhibitions in order to sign up dealers (for DestaMart) and farmers (DestaTalk),” says Mohnish.
The company has also tied up with several FPOs,whose key objectives range from information dissemination, bulk buying of agri-input products and marketing, sale and distribution of produce.
Today, DestaGlobal has built its own database of farmers and dealers. They conduct SMS and WhatsApp campaigns regularly and send updates about the latest news items and products to farmers and dealers.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 5,657 farmers committed suicide in 2014. Till September this year, 2,016 farmers have committed suicide in Maharashtra alone, which is the highest number recorded in the past five years. Odisha, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, are also witnessing such deaths.
As reported earlier by Yourstory, Sahil Kini, Vice President, Aspada says, “Productivity and distribution are fundamental problems faced by Indian agriculture.”
Aspada Investment is a VC that invests in sectors that create a social impact. He adds that agri-startups are trying to address the other important part of agriculture – income, productivity, and farmer prosperity.
As of December 2014, IAMAI-IMRB reported that 65-70 per cent of agriculture entrepreneurs adopted technology via smart phones. The number indicates that proficient transformation of the Indian agricultural industry is on the horizon.However, while penetration of the Internet and related technologies is picking up in rural India,it has yet to reach critical mass.