Indian agriculture has been stagnating yet we stubbornly resist adopting technology on our farmlands to improve yields and mechanise farming. In a recent interview with a leading daily, Bill Gates spoke about how technology changed the way America farms and yet continues to be the leading producer of food despite a minimum population involved in agriculture. He believes technology is the way forward and so do CropIn Technology. They are a startup that uses smart technology and provides various services enabled by mobile apps, big data and analytics to monitor farm efficiency, track sales, improve financial, operational and agronomical aspects, and connect farms to warehouses to markets.
Co-founder and CEO, Krishna Kumar speaks to Networked India about what distinguishes CropIn from other Agritech startups and business as well as their partnerships with state ministry and government bodies through numerous projects aimed at uplifting agriculture.
Networked India (NI): CropIn’s products are aimed at digitizing farming. Tell us about the value of this especially in the context of India’s traditional farming history.
Krishna Kumar (KK): In efforts to feed 9 billion people by 2050, the current practices of cultivation (especially in context of India and similar developing nations) are unsustainable and due to limited availability of land acreage, the challenges are enormous. This is where significant importance is being laid to ‘AgTech’ (Agriculture Technology). The 3 major value additions in the Indian context today are:
- The Ministries (Central and State) and companies are now coming together on forums to adopt technology in building sustainable farming which will help increase per acre yield and make farming more sustainable and thereby productive.
- There is an increase in penetration and adoption of mobile / Internet communication in the rural space, which is expected to dominate the growth at par or even better than urban (at over 600 million rural subscribers in India). This brings a monumental change to AgTech enterprises on capturing near real time information on the ground and conducting various geospatial analytics study regarding farming operations.
- There’s also been an increase in cultivation with technology and provision of crop insurance, where assistance is provided on crop planning, monitoring the growth cycle, plot geo tagging, pest advisory, interconnecting farmers better with partners in the value chain. Also, provision of loans to farmers for purchase of seeds, creation of new bank accounts for subsidies (Jan Dhan) and crop insurances from micro finance institutions, banking, Government etc. to name a few, are possibilities of technology adoption and digitization of agriculture.
NI: Which are CropIn’s most popular and important products?
KK: CropIn Technology, is a Farm Management-Monitoring-Traceability (agriculture data and analytics) business solution provider based at Bangalore, India. CropIn provides SaaS based service to Agribusinesses in India and abroad, enabling partners to analyze, interpret and gain real time insight on crops and farms, so as to be able to take corrective measures on time.
Three main products of CropIn Technology are as follows:
- SmartFarm: The mobile and web based flagship application helps users to manage farm operations from planning till harvesting (at each stage). The ground data along with remote sensing capabilities of the application, helps predict crop health and derives a score for each plot by predicting yield per acre of plantation. The agronomy module powered by advanced weather analytics helps users take preventive measures to avoid crop issues by managing crop stress and collate advisory to create a knowledge management database and makes agronomy efficient. SmartFarm lays the foundation of farm to fork traceability since it has continuous geo referenced data frames in the entire lifecycle of the crop.
- SmartSales: An intuitive sales effectiveness application which caters to providing solutions for Agro chemical, Input seed enterprises and importantly connects farms together at large. The application’s core features include providing ground sales visibility, tracking sales points, stock and order updates, payment status, field force effectiveness, while ensuring that farmers get complete advisory regarding what products (seeds & fertilizers) to purchase and when. Most importantly, it connects them directly to decision makers in enterprises and be part of demo’s and continuous learnings regarding cultivation.
- mWarehouse: An application which helps to manage entire packhouse operations of agri businesses starting from inventory management, order management, GS1 compliant label printing till dispatching the order thereby extending the SmartFarm and enabling users to provide farm to fork traceability. mWarehouse identifies right products from the packhouse/inventory as per the customer preferences of size, color, MRL levels etc. to achieve shipment of zero defects products. The QR Code / Barcode on the product when scanned, gives detailed information from sowing of the crop till it reaches the customer’s hands. Most importantly, mWarehouse completes the farm to fork traceability, when used along with SmartFarm.
- SmartRisk: An advanced analytics platform having a strong backend of big data, machine learning, AI and remote sensing to create farmer and plot rating and risk index. This helps Input companies, Banks and NBFC companies to identify viable leads for their business.
NI: What are the main challenges you have faced in encouraging farmers to adopt technology?
KK: 2 major challenges which we have encountered so far:
- Adaptability – Majority of Agri enterprises such as Agrochemical, Organic, Contractual farming, Input Seeds have been working with old book-keeping practices. Though tedious, but any drastic change towards digitization, is viewed with skepticism, specially with their field team, who believe that with use of the application, they are being merely tracked and their performance is being evaluated, ignoring the bigger picture. CropIn ensures it educates this customer base during our implementation to show them the value of the product. Organisations started incentivising the usage of SmartFarm, thereby increasing the adoption.
- Mobility and Literacy: With current limitations in penetration of broadband / mobile communication and rural literacy, our reach of expansion in working directly with the farmer gets limited. To counter this effectively, we built applications which capture data offline and can be customized into regional languages.
NI: Besides farmers, who are your main customers and clients?
KK: CropIn Technology’s core philosophy revolves around ‘farmer, at the heart of everything we do’, and to address the same we look deeper into the value chain of the entire agriculture sector. This includes working with contractual farmers, cooperative societies, input seed companies, pesticide enterprises, NGO’s whose projects are directed towards sustainable business (farming) solutions, the central government and state ministry agriculture projects directed towards rural community and caste upliftment, International Funding bodies (in the past) such as USAID etc. Currently CropIn works with over 70+ such clients across the globe.
NI: Give us a brief background on CropIn’s founders.
KK: CropIn has 3 co-founders:
Krishna Kumar founded CropIn in 2010. A B.E. from Visvesvaraya Technological University, he worked at GE Energy and GE Consumer & Industrial in various roles. Krishna also a Six Sigma Green Belt.
Kunal Prasad is co-founder and COO of CropIn. He did his B.E from Birla Institute of Technology and did his MBA at Great Lakes Institute of Management. Before CropIn, Kunal worked at Tata Motors in Sales and Marketing.
Chittaranjan Jena is the third co-founder of CropIn and is also the CTO. He did his MCA from National Institute of Technology Rourkela. Chittaranjan has over 18 years experience in various roles across companies like UTI, Capgemini, GE Appliances and GE Aviation.
NI: Most of India’s farmers are small holders or landless laborer’s. This makes many of CropIn’s products inaccessible and perhaps uneconomical for a majority. Please comment.
KK: No. It does not make the product uneconomical. In fact, it helps the value chain (of Agriculture) connect better with each other and ensures that efforts are result driven. Yes, there are challenges but what makes things work is our networking and acceptance of solutions by various FPO’s, Governmental bodies, International Exporters, International Funding Corporations, Banking and Financial corporations and NGO’s who not just look at permitting grants and aids but end up creating sustainable business models (which are effective in Agriculture).
NI: How do you think the government can help in digitizing farming or bringing more acreage under technology?
KK: Government must pitch in aggressively to make this work. Though the current government is focused on Digital India and allied initiatives, but there is still a lot to be done, specially via institutions such as NABARD, NIRB, State Government projects like ‘Jeevika’ between The World Bank – Bihar Government – CropIn Technology, where CropIn was the selected partner in implementing farm advisory services and helping the state government create more livelihood on the rural front.
NI: What is your opinion about the nascent agtech space in India? What can be done to give it more impetus?
KK: The impetus depends clearly on adoption of the agtech solutions and most importantly the change in mindset, to the value add which agtech brings in. While the government again here, gives boost to Digital India and Start up India, the focus must clearly stand on giving them waiver on taxations and connecting them with other government bodies such as ISRO etc. where everybody gets to learn and grow. Allied players such as seed companies, fertilisers also need to understand how the agtech boom aims to simplify their current processes and manual book keeping practices. Also, the agtech solutions must clearly focus on goals they wish to deliver and audiences they need to cater to. At CropIn, we are focusing clearly on the agriculture ecosystem, with farmer as the core beneficiary at the center.
NI: Tell us a bit about the future plans for CropIn.
KK: CropIn, currently in its 6th year of operations is present in 7 countries, has covered more than 70% states in India with a client base of 70+ and an experience of managing 100+ crops. CropIn has also been able to assist 500,000 farmers and manages over 1 million acres of farmland by solving 50,000 farming issues in its scale of operations.
In the next 5 years, we are poised to position our self at the TOMA (top of mind awareness) concerning IoT in Agriculture – Internet of AgTech. CropIn is looking at adding value to over 20 million farmers globally, entering into commodity trading markets, connecting better with financial institutions, expanding to Africa and South East Asia and importantly raising the next series of financial equity.