How Agroson is helping small farmers beat the odds in a tough marketJyoti Chidambaram Ayyar
Great things can happen when tradition meets the right technology, creating a synergy. And this is particularly heartening when it happens in one of the country’s most stressed out sectors: agriculture.
When Agroson, a young tech firm, started offering agritech and farm management consultation to a group of 20 marginal farmers in Surupkhanwadi in Maharashtra’s Satara district, it knew it could bring about a significant, positive change as an agricultural partner. Unfortunately, it soon hit a stumbling block as the farmers were in such a bad shape they couldn’t afford Agroson’s non-commercial, annual service charge of Rs 2,500. This led to the services being discontinued. But, happily, not for long. A US-based NRI, originally from Surupkhanwadi, heard about his impoverished brethren’s sad story and decided to turn benefactor, paying the service charge for all the farmers in the group, reinstating Agroson’s services.
Buoyed by this and using Agroson’s technological expertise, the farmers were able to turn their lives around. Their turnaround was such that the following year, they independently renewed the services, paying from their own newly replenished pockets.
According to Agroson founder Sharad Kadam, this is but one instance of how the Satara-based nodal agricultural agency has been changing the landscape across villages in Maharashtra since 2015. An ISO 9001:2015-certified farmer welfare firm, Agroson has launched India’s first agricultural data centre, providing unique, need-based services to farmers.
“We see a lot of technology in the agricultural sector created by universities and research bodies. But this reaches only around three percent of farmers due to the lack of proper channels. We think it is necessary for all farmers to have proper access to such technology. Agroson has created a very effective model for farmer development to promote integrated, secure and sustainable farming,” says Sharad.
Agroson, according to him, developed India’s first farmer database responsive system. Outside of its commercial services for companies and big farmers, it provides a range of services at a nominal cost to small and marginal farmers across the entire crop cycle. For example, Agroson Connect allows farmers to share queries, images and videos about their crops with agricultural experts through a portal, and get prompt responses. The Agroson Data Centre is a taluk-wise platform that connects farmers both digitally and physically, while Agroson Marknet handles agricultural inputs, farm application services and sale of produce. It also has as a helpline for farmers to resolve immediate queries. Its proprietary digital crop analysis system uses a crop’s nutrient profile and other biological aspects to suggest how farmers can improve yield, solve problems in an eco-friendly manner.
Apart from these technical services, Agroson connects farmers to domestic and international buyers for contract farming of residue-free vegetable and fruits, thus giving their clients an assured market. It is also working to create a supply chain for eco-friendly and healthy foods.
As Sharad points out, “We want to make them confident about farming, using good resources and safe farm practices for residue-free crops.”
Born into an agricultural family in rural Satara, Sharad is all too familiar with the issues farmers of the region face. After his Masters degree in agriculture, he joined a multinational agrochemical company as a technical officer. Two years later, he started a consultancy for large farm development and maintenance, targeted at non-professional farmers such as businessman and landlords.
Soon, he began getting requests from small and marginal farmer groups who also were looking for similar technology-based solutions. “We did a detailed study of their farming practices, analysed their requirements and understood that 95 percent of these small farmers faced problems due to lack of the right kind of information and support. They usually work alone [and] without any resources. So we thought of starting a system that supports, connects and helps farmers during the entire crop cycle -- from sowing to marketing of the produce. We are available 24 hours and are just a click away.”
Today, Agroson has a strong technical wing, a good rural network, and a well-equipped training facility where its personnel can demonstrate safe and sustainable farming techniques to farmers.
Explaining how it works, Sharad says, “After a farmer registers with us, we survey the farm and make crop plans, factoring in resources like the atmospheric conditions, soil quality, irrigation, labour, crop loans and other market conditions. Then we help the farmers execute this plan, make observations and maintain records for them. We also help them trade the produce at fair prices. Our technical and farm services and trade facilities have resulted in more yield, easy operations, better prices and an assured market for the farmers.”
No wonder that the feedback has been positive in a state that has become synonymous with farmer suicides. “Farmers are very impressed with us and satisfied with our services. They value our technical advice and suggestions,” says Sharad.
With a presence in eight taluks across three districts in Maharashtra, Agroson currently has 100 commercial clients and 1,200 general farmers using its services. Its client list includes Sahyadri Sugar Industries, Trilok Foods, and the NGO, Vishwtej Foundation. Sharad envisages expanding Argoson’s reach to cover all districts in Maharashtra and neighbouring states as well.
Agroson’s solution of bringing valuable technology and analytics solutions to the important agriculture sector which is traditionally challenged in terms of digital literacy – has earned it a place as one of the three finalists in the Dell Startup Challenge Season 2. The Startup Challenge is a platform from Dell in association with YourStory for startups to present their business idea to a jury for a chance to win Dell Vostro laptops and Dell technology worth $5,000. Dell is committed to accelerating the increasingly powerful role that entrepreneurs play in driving global economic growth, and wants to empower entrepreneurs by providing them with the tools, technology and resources they need.
Sharad is excited about the future, looking forward to increasing commercial operations and becoming more profitable. But first he wants to strengthen Agroson’s infrastructure and operations for social and non-commercial platforms and, if possible, waive registration fees and offer need-based services to hard-pressed farmers.
He has big plans. “We want to work for farmers who are India’s largest business community, and help them with knowledge and support. We want to connect every farmer and create an information-based network to promote better farming practices in every taluk.”