Ironic, it may seem. A couple of months ago, scores of farmers in Maharashtra took to the streets and dumped tonnes of their produce, including potatoes and tomatoes, on the road despite a bumper crop.
The reason? The glut this year led to procurement prices plunging, causing massive financial loss pushing them deeper into the depths of despair.
Farmers, almost all of who are in the unorganised sector, are perhaps the most neglected community in India. Mostly uneducated, these farmers are often forced to sell their highly-perishable produce to middlemen for a song. This year, the situation was worse.
Their demand to the government for a proper procurement mechanism has fallen on deaf ears. They don’t have the technological know-how to better manage their farm/produce, nor predict the crop. The huge financial losses more often prompt them to take the extreme step of ending their lives.
But the winds of change are blowing, although at a snail’s pace, thanks to a handful of startups committed to the welfare of this vulnerable community. These tech companies offer a lending hand to farmers to get real-time updates on standing crops, predict the yield, and thus mitigate the risks.
Bangalore-based CropIn Technology is one such company whose agritech solutions could save thousands of farmers from the edge of bankruptcy and suicide. And the company is already helping thousands of farmers across various geographies.
“Farmers are the most vulnerable community in India,” Krishna Kumar, Founder and CEO of CropIn Technology, tells me. “The recent instances of farmers throwing away their produce in protest against the huge price fall paints the dismal picture of this community. We at CropIn want to make a difference with our smart farm solutions.”
CropIn was started in 2010 by Kumar (CEO), Kunal Prasad (COO), and Chittaranjan Jena (CTO). Kumar has a strong technical background and has earlier worked at GE, whereas Prasad comes from technical and management background. The third co-founder, Jena, previously worked at UTI, Cap Gemini, Ernst & Young, and GE prior to joining CropIn.
The agritech firm’s SaaS-based services enable clients to analyse and interpret data and derive real-time actionable insights on standing crop and projects spanning geographies. It harnesses cutting-edge technologies, such as Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, geo-tagging, and satellite monitoring to achieve this goal.
“We identified that the agribusinesses had minimal and outdated technological or digital intervention, and were not able to make informed data-driven decisions. Also, with consumers keen to know the origin of their food and how it was produced and processed, there is a need for transparency along the end-to-end agribusiness supply chain,” he said.
“Our gamut of products helps farmers at every stage, including communicating weather and pest advisory to farmers, scheduling the right package of practices and adoption of inputs, ensuring adherence to compliances and certifications, giving yield predictability and providing access to markets for fair value of produce,” Kumar explained.
The firm has developed five products catering to agricultural businesses at different levels of the agri-ecosystem, namely SmartFarm, SmartRisk, mWarehouse, SmartSales, and AcreSquare.
- SmartFarm is a farm management solution that enables digitisation of farms, empowers data-driven decision-making, and provides visibility of people, processes and performance on the field. It ensures management of standard package of practices, adherence to compliance and certification, and pest and crop health management.
- SmartRisk is an agri-business intelligence solution that leverages agri-alternate data and provides risk mitigation and forecasting for effective credit risk assessment and loan recovery assistance. A proprietary machine learning algorithm built on satellite and weather data is used to give insights at plot and region level.
- mWarehouse is a solution for pack house, processing and export companies that enables farm to fork traceability and compliance, quality control and flexible inventory management.
- SmartSales is a CRM and input channel management solution that helps predict and improve sales and ensures end-to end performance management of sales team
- AcreSquare is a mobile app that helps companies interact directly with farmers, share content, educate them, and provide consultation, thus enabling companies to extend the power of technology for their farmers and build farmer loyalty.
Its audiences are the different stakeholders of the agri ecosystem, which work around farmers. This includes contract and organic farming companies, agro seed and chemical companies, banking and insurance enterprises, corporates who conduct CSR initiatives for agricultural development, and international developmental agencies.
A crisis and the aftermath
The idea of CropIn occurred to Kumar during an agrarian crisis in the state of Karnataka back in 2010. “Local farmers were facing a gamut of problems ranging from non-availability of finance, climatic vagaries, soil degradation, pest infestation and diseases, operational inefficiencies to non-predictability of the yield. I wanted to do my bit to avert this crisis and prevent farmer suicides. So I left my job at GE to set up CropIn,” Kumar narrates the story.
“Our system is not a one-time intervention but a sustainable solution. With our crop- and region-agnostic solutions, we have digitised over 1.8 million acres of farmland, enriching the lives of 500,000-plus farmers while working with 120-plus clients,” Kumar boasts. “Our target is to serve 20 million farmers (digital literacy) by 2022 and continue on our vision of making ‘every farm traceable” with technology.”
CropIn has dealt with agribusinesses in 12 countries across the globe — India, Japan, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Nepal, Vietnam, Portugal, the Philippines, Myanmar, Uganda, Ethiopia. It now looks to further expand in Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe.
The company’s global clientele includes McCain, Mahindra, Mars, IDH, Marico, Tata, Godfrey Phillips, McCain, IFB Agro, ITC, ICICI Lombard, BigBasket, Welspun, and World Bank.
A multi-billion dollar opportunity
As per a Markets and Markets report, the market for smart agriculture is expected to reach US$11.23 billion by 2022, globally. “With the global population expected to cross the 10-billion mark by the middle of this century,” Kumar goes on, “the growth combined with urbanisation will require the agricultural production to double. To succeed, the world needs smart solutions for fairly produced, sustainable food, and feed & fibre. This presents a huge opportunity for agritech firms.”
Kumar says that In India, the team have seen a huge impact in the past seven years and now with new government policies coming in, they are seeing a great impetus to the use of technology in the agri space. “We believe the potential is huge and we with our expansive experience and cutting-edge products we are in a vantage point to address these issues well.”
In India, agriculture and allied sectors are the largest livelihood provider in India, especially in rural areas. It is also a significant contributor to the country’s GDP. However, the sector often gets scant regard not just from the government, but from the corporate and banking sector as well, which lead to farmer distress and suicides. New-age technologies could bring in a change, but it requires huge efforts in terms of creating awareness and education. CropIn has all the potential to be at the forefront of this revolution.