How 2 IIT and IIM batchmates are helping farmers turn around India’s agricultural sector

Tauseef Khan and Nishant Mahatre, batchmates at IIT-Kharagpur and IIM-Ahmedabad, launched the Gramophone app to provide Indian farmers with a one-stop solution to achieve better crop yields.

Agriculture, as a primary source of livelihood, accounts for 58 percent of India’s population, according to the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), thereby making India an agriculture-based economy.

Various sectors, as well as the government, rely on the monsoon and agricultural output to determine the economic health of the country.

While the government has put various schemes in place to ease farmers’ worries about water scarcity, crop cycle and more, there is still a long way to go.

To bridge the gap, Tauseef Khan and Nishant Mahatre, who were batchmates at both IIT-Kharagpur and IIM-Ahmedabad, founded Gramophone, an agritech startup.

Founders of Gramophone (from left to right)- Ashish Rajan Singh, Tauseef Khan, Harshit Gupta, Nishant Mahatre

The seeds that sprouted Gramophone

Strongly believing that technology can remove information asymmetry in the agricultural system, the duo created an app that brings timely information and inputs required to achieve better yield for farmers.

Speaking on the startup’s mission, Tauseef Khan, Co-founder and CEO of Gramophone, says,

“Our goal is to bring the best agricultural products, information, and knowledge to the farmers. Our app, which can easily be downloaded on any mobile device via Google Play store, is a one-stop solution for farmers, where they can buy genuine crop protection, crop nutrition, seeds, implements and agri -hardware at their doorstep.”

Farmers can further access localised practice, crop advisory on the best products to grow, and weather information. This helps them to not only improve productivity, but also sustainably increase their income from agriculture.

Later that year, Ashish Rajan (33), Co-founder and childhood friend of Tauseef, along with Harshit (28) another Co-founder, joined the gramophone team.

Farmer AnilJi Methwada at his farm in Madhya Pradesh.

How the app works

The Gramophone app has a six-pronged approach to help farmers increase their productivity: Input Planning, Support & Advisory, Quality, Availability, Convenience, and Cost-effectiveness.  

Input Planning helps farmers understand their land better by facilitating soil testing and crop nutrition management. The Support & Advisory function aims to reduce information asymmetry by giving advisory weather and mandi prices to the farmers.

Quality enables farmers to procure the best and most authentic products from reliable suppliers, while Availability ensures the range of products arrive in a timely manner, and that the farmers are abreast with new developments in the market. Convenience enables farmers to receive products right at their doorstep. Lastly, the Cost-effectiveness function ensures products are sold at a more competitive price than the original market price.

The startup also has a toll-free number that provides the same tools to the farmers who do not have access to the app or a smartphone. A member of the company with an agricultural background also gets in touch with the farmer.  

Gramophone conducts field visits too, wherein the team visits the farm, observes the nature of the soil and climate, and provides farming and cultivating solutions.

The biggest challenge for the co-founders, till date, has been when they first conducted site visits and interacted with farmers in Madhya Pradesh about the prospects of launching the gramophone app.

“When we went to the rural villages for the first time, it was definitely a challenge as we were outsiders entering their space. The initial reaction from the farmers was, ‘Who are you? We have been doing this sort of cultivation for years.’ Getting them to understand and trust the authenticity of Gramophone was an early challenge. However, with time we have been able to build their trust and earn credibility,” Nishant says.

A positive impact

The biggest impact that Gramophone has had on farmers in India is that it has changed their mindset and the way they view farming. They have now come to realise that there are endless possibilities when it comes to agriculture.

“The change in behaviour and mindset of farmers is something we have noticed over the years, and this has been quite an impact. Further realising the potential of agriculture and things we can do to make a change is something we constantly strive to do through Gramophone,” Ashish states.

“In quantitative terms, we have noticed that there has been an increase in production by up to 40 percent, and a reduction in the cost of cultivation by 20 percent, in the case of farmers who have utilised our app,” Nishant says.

A farmer who has benefited from Gramophone

Ramkishan ji Kanardi, a farmer from MP, who has greatly benefited from the gramophone app states,

“When I first went to the Gramophone office in Indore, they taught me how to use the app. This was quite handy for me as it provided me with the weather forecast and prediction of rains beforehand. Also, the app told me if there was any disease in my crop, and if so, how it can be cured with suitable medicine. In case there is any need to be addressed, the office gets notified and rings me up to provide me with a solution, unlike others who market a particular brand, gramophone tells me what would work best for me and my crop.”

More than three lakh farmers have utilised the Gramophone platform, which has greatly benefitted from word-of-mouth marketing.

Devendra Patidar another farmer from MP says, “In our local market, there aren’t any branded products which we can use for our crops, but with the gramophone app, we can actually place our order in the morning and get it delivered at our doors by the evening. This is quite helpful for us farmers as we don’t have to waste much time waiting for our products, or end up buying the wrong product.”

“We have noticed a multi-fold growth with Gramophone, which has been able to grow 5X every year because we have been able to provide solutions to problems that have arisen for farmers working in the agricultural sector, and our services have worked. We have built a beautiful digital platform with products that have empowered them,” Tauseef adds.

Early growth and journey

The founders have noted a 5X year-on-year growth at Gramophone.

In 2009, after graduating from IIM-Ahmedabad in agri-business management, the IIT-Kharagpur alumni decided to solve issues that plagued the Indian farmer. They noticed the biggest problem was that of productivity.

“India is one of the top countries in fruit and vegetable production, and to solve the problems that arise for the Indian farmer we wanted to combine agriculture and technology to create something that would provide the right knowledge and methodology,” Tauseef says.

Due to structural problems in the administrative system, farmers don’t usually have much control over crop prices in the market, or how favourable a yield may be in a particular year.

“We wanted to solve things within the farmers' control and help salvage the situation by helping them improve productivity by 50 to 70 percent,” Tauseef continues.

Having studied and worked together at John Deer as colleagues, and with a similar thought process, the duo decided to collaborate together and founded the agritech startup in 2016. Today, the company has over 200 employees, where  Ashish heads the Bengaluru office, and the remaining three co-founders work in Indore.

Nishant and Tauseef bootstrapped Gramophone with a sum of Rs 10 lakh. Later, they received angel investment in their second round. Some of the companies that have invested in Gramophone till date include, Asha Impact, Better Capital, and Info Edge Limited, among others.

Future ahead

Speaking of the future plans, the Gramophone team hopes to expand to other states such as Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh, and launch the app in other languages as well.

“Building and replicating human interface through technology, like a chat service provided by the app, is something that we hope to do soon, as we have noticed that the farmers like to be guided and directed till products reach their doorstep. We do have a toll-free calling service, but having this would be an added benefit,” says Nishant.

(Edited by Suman Singh)


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