On a gloomy Saturday morning, Bhagyamma appears cheerful as she looks at her sprawling green farm in Anekal taluk on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Her happiness also stems from the fact that her daughter is getting married this year. “This has been possible only because of a good harvest. Otherwise, where will I get the money from?” asks the 57-year-old. Until last year, she couldn’t even think of getting her daughter married as there were times when they found it difficult to afford even two square meals a day. It’s been eight years since Bhagyamma’s husband abandoned her, but instead of wallowing in self-pity she chose to work on her two-acre farm along with her daughter.
Her problem though was how to predict the yield which often failed her miserably. But that’s no longer the case now. “We are used to vagaries of monsoon and the risks involved in farming. What we are not used to is this kind of technology that helps us know our farms much better,” chuckles Bhagyamma as she flashes her smartphone. She is one among the thousands of contract farmers working for food companies to have benefited from data-driven farming using an app on her phone. “Farming methods are not taught to you, you learn the ropes while working on the farm like I did ever since I was a small girl. But there are quite a few concepts which I have learnt recently that has proved to be really beneficial,” explains Bhagyamma, a contract farmer for the past two years.
The app that Bhagyamma is referring to is the data-driven farming solution built by Bengaluru-based CropIn Technologies. While the app is primarily targeted at agro-based companies to monitor their fields, the ultimate beneficiaries are farmers who are associated with these companies as they can fetch improved realisation for their produce through better farm practices.
Large companies such as PepsiCo and McCain have contract farms that are spread across thousands of acres and, as a result, find it difficult to keep a track of crops grown on each plot. Farm reporting is a manual process as it involves maintaining records, information about pests, germination percentage, area validation and weather forecasts. But CropIn has made it possible by geo-tagging every farm and helping trace the activities of each and every farm in real time. Once the field manager geo-tags the farm using the app, it helps the manager to know the entire characteristics of the farm. Features such as, which area of the farm is prone to pest risks, how good was the harvest over the past three years and what are the risk factors that has to be looked into in the current harvest, and crop production forecast, make the app farm-efficient. To make it even more convenient, all this information can be gathered without the intervention of the farmer irrespective of the area of farm that he is assigned to manage.
Seeds of change
It all began in 2009 when Krishna Kumar, co-founder of CropIn Techologies, then with GE India, had to read up on the agrarian crisis and its impact on the economy as part of an industrial study. What was just a study proved to be the starting point for Kumar who realised that there was still a huge information gap in farming methods of big companies which are involved in contract farming. These companies had to deal with voluminous data to track just one crop. “Although a lot of information was available regarding agriculture sector, there was no single method to obtain the necessary information in an organised manner,” says Kumar. It was a tough call for him to quit his job as he did not have the funds to start the company. He recalls writing mails to his friends saying, “If I win, you will also win and if I lose, you will also lose.” He ended up raising Rs.7 lakh from friends who believed in him and in his idea. The initial funding helped Kumar to build on his concept.
It was only in 2010 that the ball got rolling, when early-stage investors such as Ankur Capital, and FusionCharts pumped in Rs.20 lakh, helping Kumar to formally set up CropIn Technologies. Pallav Nadhani, co-founder, FusionCharts, says, “The technology brought in by CropIn is completely new and given that India is driven by agriculture, we envisioned scale in the business.”
But it was only after Safal, a division of the National Dairy Development Board, agreed to implement a pilot project that CropIn was able to get multinational adopters such as Fieldfresh, McCain, and PepsiCo on board. Today, CropIn’s clientele also includes Philip Morris, Godfrey Phillips, ITC, Mahindra-HZPC, Bigbasket, Finlays, and Sahyadari Farms.
What’s in it
There are three main components in the CropIn app— Smart Farm, Smart Sales, and mWarehouse which not only enables farmers but also companies engaged in the agri value chain (See box: Smart application).
Available in all regional languages, all the farmer has to do is to open the app whenever he encounters a problem regarding pest control or if he requires any kind of information on sowing, plantation. He then can simply record his voice or click images and send it to the advisory board of the company that he works with. Each company has an advisory board that immediately reaches out to the farmers with their solutions. As each geo-tagged farm is traceable, the companies can also reach out to farmers by sending bulk SMSes whenever a specific action plan has to be taken. “The app maintains the history of all the pest and diseases along with the information and analysis given by experts over time,” says Kunal Prasad, co-founder, CropIn Technologies.
HV Punit, deputy manager— leaf, Godfrey Phillips India, which has been using CropIn’s solutions for the past three years, says, “CropIn enables agro companies to make responsive decisions, monitor business risks, forecast production and also respond to new market initiatives.” Punit looks after 50 field technicians, each armed with the CropIn app to manage 3,200 hectares of tobacco farms.
Similarly, Abinash Gupta, agro-director, McCain, who monitors 1,000 growers, says, “The live data captured by our field staff helps us to address problems immediately.”
The cost of implementation depends on the size of the project. CropIn charges Rs.600 per acre per year. It is working on a B2B model as of now, but is also planning to implement a B2C model and work directly with farmers.
While agriculture is estimated to be an over $250 billion industry, growing a CAGR of 3%, the farm management software business is still in its nascent stage. Nevertheless, CropIn Technologies seems to be charging ahead, having clocked a revenue of Rs.1 crore in FY15 and growing over 20% approximately. Ritu Verma, co-founder and managing partner, Ankur Capital says, “This is a time when people are willing to adopt new technology in the sector. This venture will not only help agricultural input companies but also bring a change in the lives of farmers.”
With leading agro-companies using its technology, CropIn has around 10 lakh acre of farms under coverage with 5 lakh farmers growing over 1,700-odd varieties of crops. While the company has a presence in 15 states, it caters to five other countries, including Vietnam, Portugal, Kenya and Philippines. CropIn plans to get 20 million farms on the platform over the next five years in ten more countries and is looking at raising another round of funding of around $4 million. Their long-term goal is to reach out to the individual farmers at a cost-effective price. Chittaranjan Jena, co-founder at CropIn, wants to make a big difference in the agriculture sector by using the right data. “I believe one day farming will be a profession of choice and not a painful legacy that farmers are left with,” he says.