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How smartphones and cheap data are helping farmers

sme, sme sectorTechnology is helping lenders help farmers.

As the proliferation of smart phones and the availability of cheap data packages empowers farmers to access information and advice, agri-tech start-ups are coming into their own.

Backed by investments of close to $250 million, about 500 agri-tech start-ups are helping farmers improve productivity and get a better price for their crop. It’s no longer about timely weather updates but algorithms that predict output and demand.

Some like Gramophone are replicating the government’s kisan helpline and call centres by leveraging WhatsApp to provide technical help. NinjaCart is engaging with the farmers to help them get their products to the market while some like CropIn are working in the B2B space—they provide digital solutions to banks and insurers to help them assess the creditworthiness of farmers.

As Tauseef Khan, co-founder, Gramophone explained initially farmers were reaching out to them via phone calls but now all exchanges are on SMS or WhatsApp. Farmers call for advice at every stage, whether they’re sowing seeds or transplanting. “We create profiles of each farmer so we know what he is growing and at what stage the crop is,” Khan says.

Meanwhile, Fasal, an agri-tech start-up that’s focused on horticulture deploys sensors in the fields. Based on readings·for soil texture, water retention, temperature, moisture and weather predictions·it provides solutions via its app, WhatsApp and SMS.

Fasal sells hardware (sensors) for Rs 15,000 – Rs 20,000 per hectare and additional updates cost between Rs 300 – Rs 700 per month. Founder Shailendra Tiwari says the Whatsapp groups created in every state are working well and that farmers are able to cope with the technology. “They use WhatsApp to trade and collect information on prices from the mandis,” he says.

Not everyone is as enthused. Ninjacart co-founder Vasudevan Chinnathambi, says the company’s app wasn’t widely adopted and it was difficult to onboard farmers. “We have call centres and we are supporting famers on SMS”, Chinnathambi told FE. Ninjacart uses an algorithm-based model to determine output and predict demand; it works with 27,000 farmers across the country mostly via agents and a network of collection and fulfillment centres.

Technology is also helping lenders help farmers. As Krishna Kumar, founder and CEO, CropIn says it helps banks and insurance companies to assess the creditworthiness of farmers by providing digital solutions. For instance, CropIn uses satellite imagery to create a crop-signature that can then be used to assess crop damage and productivity.”CropIn also helps conducts field trials to determine crop sustainability in the region and is working with a base of 1.6 million farmers.

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