Arming the farmer with data, digital plough

Farmers’ friend: Rajiv Tevtiya is the managing partner and chief executive officer of RML AgTech, which has created the app — RML Farmer — Krishi Mitro, used by seven lakh farmers.   | Photo Credit: Vijay Bate

Less than a month ago, most farmers were selling onions in Nasik’s Lasalgaon market at ₹470 per quintal even as the then prevailing price in Punjab was nearly three times more at ₹1,350 per quintal. Most farmers did not have access to pan-India basic price information, not to forget, the logistics costs involved in moving onions from between mandis across the states.

But few farmers from Lasalgaon and Narayangaon were able to benefit with the help of an app that showed them that they will still be making more than ₹1,100 per quintal after factoring in the logistics costs of ₹350 per quintal for moving onions from Maharashtra to Punjab.

For the farmer

“Decision support technology and tools like DigiMandi hold the key to improving the condition of our farmers,” says 41-year old Rajiv Tevtiya, managing partner and chief executive officer of RML AgTech, a Mumbai-based start-up, which was initially started as an SMS-based service for farmers, but has since then enhanced its offerings to help farmers with information regarding crop management, prices, traders, logistics and even pest control.

“RML AgTech was started by Reuters in 2007 as an agri service for farmers through SMS. In 2013, it became a separate entity with Reuters becoming a small shareholder and investors coming in. I bought out whatever residual stake Reuters had and became the promoter. Since 2015, we have turned around the company to focus on data science and digital revolution,” he says.

RML AgTech has since then capitalised on factors like smartphone penetration and cheap data plans to enhance its reach across the country. Currently there are close to seven lakh farmers that use the app — RML Farmer — Krishi Mitr.

The app has been designed in a manner to provide customised data to the farmer based on his or her area, weather, soil condition and market demand. Through the app along with customer support service and on-ground intervention, the company keeps a track of the information that each farmer is seeking.

Moving beyond the basics, the start-up also provides information about farm production management, pesticide & nutri-management, harvest, packaging, storage and finally the place where the best price is available.

“When we wanted to evolve, we looked at what the farmer is looking for. We realised that the farmer is lacking in end-to-end solution. While in other sectors productivity has gone up even as costs have gone down, our agriculture is nowhere when compared on a global scale,” says the co-founder.

RML AgTech reaches out to farmers through its tie-ups with leading institutions like banks and telecom service providers. It has around 200 staff on its payroll and another 80 outsourced as part of the customer care vertical.

While the start-up had made available its free app to every farmer that comes on board, the aim is to sell more paid versions of the application. The price starts from ₹1,000 onwards and goes on till ₹3,000 per annum depending on the features that a farmer opts for.

The paid version has features called CropDock and DigiMandi. With CropDock, a farmer can click and upload photographs of his crop that has been infested with pests and within four hours, the company will revert with a solution and also the manner in which it has to be implemented.

With DigiMandi, a farmer can get mandi-specific information like the distance from the farm to the nearest mandi, transportation cost and contact details of traders. The company is in the process of refining the data further in terms of price trend and more features will be added soon.

The start-up also has an app for traders, which is a paid-only app charging ₹7,500 per annum. It has around 6,000 traders, who are on-boarded only after physical verification processes. Going ahead, the company also aims to enable transactions on its platform.

“Through our farmer and trader apps, we cover approximately 900 mandis and nearly 850 varieties of crops. We are the only player to collect almost real time data on perishable crops,” he says. Incidentally, the free version will not highlight the best price mandi, logistic cost, net price, forecast trend etc.

The start-up is also working on new features that will allow farmers to maintain an end-to-end expense log to ascertain the real profit or loss that they clock on the sale of their produce and also to select the best crop based on the information that he submits in the app.

‘Not burning cash’

This is not the first time that Mr. Tevtiya is trying his luck with a start-up. In 2013, he along with his wife, started GreenCart, a farm-to-folk produce venture, that was later sold to Grofers. As part of his corporate journey, he has worked with Vodafone, Reliance Communications and Tata AIG General Insurance.

The business model of RML AgTech is such that it is not burning cash, which has become synonymous with the start-up and e-commerce segment. IvyCap Venture Trust is the lead investor in RML AgTech, having put in a total of Rs.40 crore in two tranches.

“We are almost profitable. We are not burning cash, to be sure. Around 25% of our revenues come from corporate clients to whom we provide trends and other market data,” says Mr. Tevtiya.

Interestingly, rural foray has become a focus area for many leading banks like ICICI Bank, State Bank of India and Bank of Baroda among others and RML AgTech is playing an important role in providing content to such entities and thereby making money in the process.

The start-up is trying to capitalise on the fact that there are millions of farmers in the country who are spread far and wide while genuine information is scarce and not organised.

“There are around 14 crore farmers and many of those have a smart phone and decent earnings as well. If we are able to target such farmers and double their income, the whole rural landscape will change. We are not expecting everybody to download this product, but the process of sharing information has definitely started,” he says.

‘Making it viable’

Mr. Tevtiya says that the purpose of RML AgTech is to make agriculture a commercially exciting business that convinces many to look at agriculture as a profession.

“My dream is that you go to any of the premier institutes and say why not become a farmer. Income can be better than any job in a multinational, and it will be tax-free. And on top of it you can bring more innovation and become your own entrepreneur,” he says.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2020 3:14:10 PM |

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