Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a new mobile app— Kisan Suvidha— which will provide farmers information on the five parameters of weather, input dealer, market price, plant protection and expert advisories. Given that India has the world’s second largest smartphone market, with 87 million rural mobile Internet users, and agriculture is the mainstay of Indian economy, with more than 60 per cent of the workforce employed in it, it is presumed that this app is likely to have many takers and is poised to change the face of Indian agriculture.
However, there are some worrying factors. First, a smartphone is required to operate this app. Secondly, at present, the information is available only in Hindi and English. Both these factors are currently proving detrimental to the large-scale impact this app set out to create. While there are plans underway, only time will tell how beneficial this “omnibus for quick and relevant information” will actually be.
According to Vijay Pratap Singh Aditya, Founder of Delhi-based Ekgaon Technologies,
Not all mobile-based services are useful as they mostly provide generic advisory which doesn’t help in a single catch tool. A half-hour episode once a fortnight can inspire someone to be a better farmer but not necessarily help much. Farm advisories need to be customised and given in a method that farmers can understand and execute on their fields.
Ekgaon Technologies tackles the issue of agriculture at two-levels – first, farmers join Ekgaon’s ‘One Village One World Network,’ in which they have access to farm advisory and other services through their mobile phone – all of which helps in increased and better productivity. Secondly, the organisation has established ekgaon.com, a ‘direct from farm’ platform that connects the farmers to customers who are looking for healthy, natural and organic food.
Customised farm-advisory services at just Rs 150 per season
Ekgaon’s delivery model is based on ‘when I need’, which essentially means hand-holding the farmers during the cropping season, with smart advisory that is aimed at increasing farm productive and reducing cultivation costs. For Rs 150 per cropping season, Ekgaon’s service for small farmers, called ‘OneFarm’, provides customised information on soil and its nutrient management, crop and weather conditions, disease alerts and market prices, as well as critical information on how much water will be released by the local authorities and when it would reach their respective fields. The services are customised because Ekgaon has devised algorithms for each crop/variety, using variability parameters of land, soil, bio-climate and crop type. All the information is delivered via SMS in the local language as well as an outbound-call on the farmer’s phone at planned intervals. When a farmer confirms the usage of advice by sending SMS or pressing buttons by calling the Ekgaon number, the company understands the trend of best practices and continually refines them.
Currently, Ekgaon is working with 20,000 farmers across 465 villages in Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Last year, it conducted an impact survey and the results have been exciting.
Our survey included a sample of 10,000 farmers and the average production increase per farmer went up from 12.05 quintal per acre to 24.91 quintal per acre.
What plagues the market?
Vijay says, “If you take urad dal, it’s currently being sold in metros in the range of Rs 100 – 125/kg. But a year ago, it was Rs 65 – 80/kg. On the other hand, the price of rice hasn’t increased in the last three years by even a rupee. The government’s minimum support price (MSP) hasn’t taken into consideration the inflation (of a minimum eight percent). How will the farmers prosper?”
Citing an example of basmati rice, he explains,
Around two years ago, 900 farmers cultivated 5,000 metric tonnes of basmati rice in the hope of getting better prices. This meant a lot more effort, after all, it’s the best quality of rice. But when they tried selling it, the largest buyer, which is the Government of India, procured it at a non-negotiable of just Rs 14/kg. The same rice is sold in the market at close to Rs 100/kg.
Vijay uses cab aggregators as a comparison.
Uber, Ola and other taxi-aggregator models have created a better playing field for everyone. Drivers who were earning Rs 15,000 per month had their incomes quadrupled and customers are able to travel at reasonable costs. Such an aggregator model is what agriculture needs.
Enter Ekgaon’s online marketplace
Last year, Vijay started an online platform to sell the farmers’ produce at the right prices, under the brand ‘Ekgaon’. In just a year, the platform has amassed over 5,000 customers of whom 50 percent are repeat customers. Over 50 different products are sold – rice, flax seed, pulses and millets, spices, sugar etc. The farmers’ income, as a result of both the mobile-based advisory services as well as the marketplace, has seen an average increase of Rs 8,500 per month, or 67 percent.
Over the next few years, Ekgaon is working on entering the retail markets as well as building relationships with bulk buyers. Along with retaining the farmers in the existing network, Ekgaon has ambitious plans of scaling to 15 million farmers in the next five years and generating revenues to the tune of Rs 100 crore.