IITians foray into agriculture via kisan network app

Sher Singh Saini, 34, quit his job as a motor mechanic two years ago after a minor disability and took up farming on two-acre ancestral land in a remote village in Haryana’s Fatehabad.

Not having enough land holdings to make growing of cereals a lucrative option, he decided to give a shot to organic farming. But he knew little about it. A matriculate, Mr. Saini searched for information online and stumbled upon an advertisement on Facebook about kisan network app and downloaded it.

“I downloaded it and deleted it after a few months. But six months ago, I again downloaded its updated version. It has been of immense help to me since then,” says Mr. Saini.

Earlier, he would depend on the advice of the pesticide sellers in the city or fellow farmers for any crop disease, but now he takes the pictures of the affected plants and sends them across on the app to get an expert advice.

“It is not just me. Many farmers in the neighbourhood, who don’t have smartphones, turn to me for help. I also send pictures on their behalf to seek the advice through the app. Also, it provides updated information on the rates in nearby mandis. It helps me get the best price for my produce,” says Mr. Saini.

The app

In less than two years after Ashish Mishra and his friend Sidhant Bhomia, both IIT-Khargpur alumni, launched the agriculture start-up, “TheKrishi”, in January 2018, it has been downloaded six lakh times.

Mr. Mishra claims the users have been spending around 1.20 lakh minutes per day on an average on the app. Available in Hindi, the app has been quite popular in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, besides Haryana. The duo, however, plans to bring out the app in South Indian languages as well for the farmers in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Though the duo earlier unsuccessfully tried their hands at start-ups offering deals, Mr. Mishra always wanted to do something so he could impact a large population. He had been following the agriculture space since 2016 and decided to take a plunge in 2017 when Jio made inroads and the rural internet penetration soared.

“I thought it was the right opportunity and started working on this project while working simultaneously at a health start-up. After a lot of research, we found that the biggest bottleneck in driving the farmers income up was the lack of awareness and access. The farmers did not have access to market, information and no price visibility. They did not have any credible information on how to get credit, how to avail subsidies, which crops to grow, which seeds to sow and what to do in the event of a disease. They knew how to grow, but were going with most conservative choices,” says Mr. Mishra.

MSP issues

Around 60% of the cultivable land in the country is under foodgrains when per acre income for such crops is just ₹41,000, which is less than one-thirds than what it is for fruits and vegetables. But the farmers are sceptic about growing vegetables because there is no security cover of the Minimum Sales Price and they do not know where and how to sell their produce, said Mr. Mishra.

“Lot of new technology has to be adopted like drip irrigation. It reduces water consumption and increases yield, but farmers are either sceptic or don’t have disposal income,” avers Mr. Mishra.

Information provider

The start-up has a team of more than a dozen engineers and agronomists. The aim of the app, according to Mr. Mishra, is to provide reliable information to its users, educate them about technology tools to help improve their productivity and provide stakeholders connect.

The users can connect with more than 200 experts, mostly farmers with expertise in different crops and modes of agriculture, to seek information on the subject of their interest. The app also plans to connect the users to shopkeepers too. Among others, Padma Shree awardee Bharat Bhushan Tyagi, an expert in mixed and organic farming, is also available with his expert advice to the farmers.

Data analysis, the department held by Mr. Bhomia, is an important component of the start-up that helps understand the need of users. Mr. Bhomia explains that everything that they do is data-driven.

“We take out the questions from the app and try to understand their flavour. We get to know the kind of information they need. It changes rapidly. Two months ago they wanted to know about seeds, now they want information on crop protection and diseases,” says Mr. Bhomia.

The start-up team also runs around a dozen WhatsApp group connecting directly to the farmers to better understand their needs and analyse the data. It helps them get the unstructured information. The duo also plans to buy a piece of land and do farming to have first-hand experience.

“The idea is to inspire, educate and enable the farmers,” Mr. Mishra sums up the thought behind the start-up.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 5:15:11 PM |

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