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[Product Roadmap] How CropIn developed tech solutions to address challenges faced by farmers

In this week’s Product Roadmap, we feature agritech startup CropIn that is helping framers identify crop issues and boost productivity in India and other countries.

[Product Roadmap] How CropIn developed tech solutions to address challenges faced by farmers

Wednesday October 06, 2021 , 9 min Read

Deeply moved by the plight of farmers in the country, Kunal Prasad and Krishna Kumar founded CropIn in 2010. They felt the agricultural sector needed technology disruption to help farmers identify crop issues and boost productivity. 

The co-founders then developed a SaaS platform to analyse crop patterns, soil conditions, water stress risk, etc., across the country. 

“We had done this at scale in Bangladesh and Nigeria. It can also give information about deforestation, soil degradation, carbon footprint, etc., and help make this a better planet to live in,” says Krishna. 

Due to the farmers’ inability to obtain and act on the information on time made the duo think if data analytics could help. 

“We aimed at a sustainable model for agriculture that would include an all-inclusive economic growth of the farmers. The Beta version of our product was ready by the end of 2011, and we sold our first product in 2012. Our first pilot was a hit, which attracted mega corporates who wanted to see the proof of concept. Once we convinced them about the superior quality of CropIn’s platform, they placed orders, and the customers started coming in,” adds Krishna.

The team then collaborated with agribusinesses to understand agriculture, supply chains, market dynamics, and customer needs and evolve customer-centric solutions.

In the last 10 years, the bootstrapped agritech startup has grown from a one-room office in Bengaluru to having offices in Delhi, Mumbai, Amsterdam, and many other cities across the world. 

Building for scale 

Some of the initial challenges faced by CropIn was to do with adaptability, mobility, and rural literacy. The team realised it was difficult for farmers to adapt to new digital practices in the initial days. Mobility and broadband connectivity was in place, but the penetration was not 100 percent in rural areas. 

“It was a challenge in the initial years to get the farmers to adapt to new technology, but it was worth the effort as they are reaping the benefits now,” adds Krishna. 

To make the farming community more efficient, CropIn developed two platforms -- SmartFarm and SmartRisk

SmartFarm helps agribusinesses to digitise farm lands, helps in effective decision making, and can also reduce the risk of climate change, pestilence, and disease. It helps them to manage farms, record farm data observations, to predict future outcomes, and establish traceability as well. 

It enables farmers to improve the productivity of their crops while at the same time helps maintain the quality of their produce, thus allowing a win-win situation for all the stakeholders in the value chain. 

CropIn Founder, Krishna Kumar

Krishna Kumar, CropIn Founder

Krishna explains: “Traditionally, nobody used technology to collect data related to agriculture. Our first product SmartFarm was designed for use on smartphones.”

“Over time, SmartFarm has evolved considerably and has become more innovative as more capabilities have been built to amplify the services further,” he adds. 

CropIn’s SmartRisk is an AI and ML-based predictive and prescriptive solution, which is implemented once the plot is geotagged. The product focusses on the health of the crop, weather conditions, soil conditions, etc. 

Agribusinesses can get details about water stress, nitrogen deficiency, pests, and disease by looking at the conditions. It can estimate the crop yield and forewarn against anything that impacts the quality of the produce. 

According to the team, an agribusiness can manage over one million farmers on this platform, which is manually impossible.

Starting with the MVP 

Krishna says they got their first customer in 2012, and the team soon started building the app. Within six months, the MVP was ready, and the product was released. 

The team stared with farming companies where customers engage farmers to produce certain crops for them commercially. These were large agribusinesses who depend on farmers for their inputs. After this, the startup included companies that provide information to farmers about farm equipment manufacturers, chemicals, fertilisers, and pesticide companies. 

They also approached banks and financial institutions that offer loans to farmers. All these stakeholders would be benefitted by obtaining crop intelligence and this can help them tailor their offerings to the farmers. Banks needed information about the quality of the farm assets against which they were providing loans. 

“While building the first prototype for SmartFarm, we focussed on the fundamental challenges faced by a farmer due to the lack of real-time actionable inputs. The aim was to use the power of data analytics to provide information about soil and weather conditions, crop health, and estimated yield. We wanted to geotag the plot to collect and store data. The app had to be user-friendly and convenient to the farmers. It was an area where nobody had ventured before,” explains Krishna. 

Shifting to the B2B model 

Early on, the CropIn team figured out that the B2C model was not scalable as it would be challenging for the team to approach individual farmers directly and expect them to sign up for the app. 

“That is when we decided to reach out to agribusinesses that deal with a large number of contract farmers. The problem statement of agriculture that we were trying to solve remained the same, but we changed the approach to reach the eventual target,” says Krishna.  

It took agribusinesses some time to understand the benefits of using the software. Once the farmers saw the usefulness of the product, they were enthusiastic about using the software to improve their farm yields. It took them one crop season to adjust to the product. 

And since then, there has been no looking back, says Krishna. 

“Of course, the product has evolved considerably from its original prototype, with new technology being added. Peripheral solutions are also being added using APIs. We had realised early on that it was difficult to scale up as a B2C model because it would be difficult for farmers to afford the product. That is why we moved to B2B and reached out to agribusinesses,” says Krishna. 

At present, SmartFarm and SmartRisk is being used in agricultural experiments in over 52 countries in Africa.

Workings across the globe 

“Some of our success stories include the Rainforest Alliance in Ghana, where CropIn developed a future-ready farm solution called CocoaSense that leverages AI and satellite imagery to assist cocoa farmers in managing and monitoring crops,” says Krishna. 

Similarly, SmartRisk was used by one of the world’s largest brewery companies to make thoughtful procurement strategies through AI and ML capabilities. 

Back home, the Government of India chose CropIn to be its agritech partner in a public-private partnership (PPP) with the World Bank for bringing technology to build climate resilience to Indian farmers. The project was launched in 2017 in two districts of Bihar- Madhubani and Gaya to devise strategies to help farmers combat climate change and improve their livelihoods. 

Over 4,000 farmers, spread over 1,650 hectares of land, benefitted from the advisory services. The results of the exercise were spectacular, with 80 percent implementation of PoPs and advisories. Over 92 percent displayed climate-resilient agricultural practices, and 90 percent were satisfied with the satellite-based advisory. About 13,000+ plots were monitored while 200,000+ PoP and weather-based advisories were provided. 

The entire project generated an average yield of over 37 percent versus the benchmark of 30 percent.

Working around the needs 

It is difficult for an agribusiness to track every farm personally. That is where technology can help process humongous amounts of data quickly and provide you with the relevant information. 

“Based on the changing and growing needs of farmers, we keep adding to our product capabilities and ensure they can navigate the apps seamlessly,” explains Krishna. 

“We figured that the problem statements in agriculture remains the same worldwide, and except for demographic changes and mechanisation needs, everything is roughly the same. Our bet paid off, and today we have customers in over 52 countries. Similarly, we decided to go with a few large enterprises employing a large number of farmers. This gave us better returns compared to chasing small companies. On the tech front, betting on data analytics and AI was a good decision,” says Krishna. 

The team recently joined the European Carbon+ Farming coalition to achieve the carbon neutrality goals of the European Green Deal. 

“We have used AI to build our predictive and prescriptive solutions, and SmartRisk for risk mitigation and forecasting. Apart from SmartFarm and SmartRisk, some of the other technological solutions in our product portfolio include SmartWare, RootTrace, PlotRisk, and AcreSquare,” says Krishan. 

Smartware is an end-to-end solution for packhouse, processing, and export companies that enable farm-to-fork traceability and compliance, quality control, flexible inventory management, SKU tagging, and to fulfill orders. This enables better marketing and enhanced visibility.

RootTrace is a seed-to-shelf traceability solution for preserving global food integrity. It ensures end-to-end supply chain traceability with patented non-replicable QR stickers. They fetch the right price for producers in the international market, assuring brand credibility and help farmers meet quality standards for export.

PlotRisk enables a farmer to remotely monitor their plot through satellite imagery. It provides details of crop health, yield estimates, water stress, pest and disease predictions, and other parameters at a plot level.

AcreSquare is a two-way communication channel that enables companies to interact directly with farmers, provide them with real-time updates, share information, educate them, provide advisory, and receive updates and alerts from them. This helps agribusinesses to extend the power of technology to their associates and build farmer loyalty.

CropIn is now working on building AI innovations to address the latest challenges in the agri ecosystem. 

“We are expanding our presence further in Africa, Europe, South East Asia, and the Americas by diversifying into new customer segments like telecom, plantation, machinery, etc. CropIn also plans to use the channel partnership model to strengthen connectivity within the agri ecosystem through partnerships with local companies,” adds Krishna. 

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Edited by Megha Reddy