The Ballari district of Karnataka prone to drought and vagaries of nature has left many farmers hapless and homeless. Jayalaxmi Agro Tech, a social enterprise located in a small village in the Ballari district of Karnataka has sprung into action by creating a mobile app to provide farmers crop-specific information. In the process, the startup has become a ‘do good’ enterprise as it has saved farmers from committing suicide.
By Kavitha Srinivasa
All you need is a spark to ignite a fire. When Anand Babu left behind a cushy corporate job to return to his agricultural roots in search of greener pastures, it seemed the right decision. This mind-altering decision was to do something for farmers. The urge to reach out to farmers can be traced to his growing years spent in Hagaribommanahalli in the Ballari district of Karnataka.
Like many others in Ballari, Babu too hails from an agrarian household. Like them, he too watched farmers suffer over poor crop outcomes due to scanty rainfall. But, unlike many others, he decided to do something about it. Understandable, considering his formative years were impacted by grim circumstances caused by the deficit of rain, lack of funds and uncertainty. Babu’s foray into the agricultural world is a reminder of Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
“My schooling went by watching my parents struggle with farming. After graduation, I moved into the corporate world, but my father insisted that I do something for farming,” recalled Babu. The idea was brewing in his mind and concretized when the like-minded cousin, Shivaprakash L. too shared the same sentiment. Rather than offering loans or farming tools — the duo got to the root of the matter — farmers don’t have crop specific information — and decided to do something about it. Mobile technology with its undisputed reach became the medium of their expression as they created a farmer-specific mobile app through their company Jayalaxmi Agro Tech (JAT). The app has made a noticeable impact; every four minutes one farmer downloads the app and so far, it has touched lives of 150,000 farmers in Karnataka.
Being from agriculture family background, the duo knew that the “information gap” among farmers is a social problem. “Although the Government of India has its own extension department, (it’s part of agriculture department and its role is to spread the information and create awareness), there’s an acute shortage of frontend agriculture experts who can handhold the farmers at the field,” they explained and added, “As a result, agriculture becomes input intensive and youths are losing interest in farming. India has roughly 120 million agriculture family.” That’s how they zeroed in on Ägri ICT solutions beginning informally in 2013, spent time in developing solutions and finally registered the company in December 2014 to cater to the missing link. “Even if we expect one agriculture field staff for every 1,000 farming families, India needs around 12 lakh field staffers. Unfortunately, we have less than one lakh agriculture extension field staff. It is inevitable that we have to adopt “technology” in agriculture,” reasoned Babu and Shivaprakash.
Most apps in the agriculture ICT space in India offer insights on the market price or the weather. Though both dimensions are important, other aspects also call for attention. The entrepreneurs noticed that there’s no crop specific app to handhold farmers to support the growth phase of crops, which is technically an agronomic practice. With some brainstorming, they arrived at separate vernacular apps for every crop.
The apps are designed to break the literacy barrier and deliver information. A suite of 20+ crops specific apps for agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry are available in regional languages. While apps addressing information gap, the biggest bottleneck for information dissemination is connectivity gap. The entrepreneurs have developed a hardware product called AgriPole to overcome the connectivity gap. Farmers can download the app from this device without using the Internet.
As consumers use the apps, in-built algorithms will track the app usage pattern by farmers (both small land holding and large farmers) and save it in cloud-based servers. “For example, if a farmer looks at a specific disease in specific crop, such data will get tracked and saved in cloud servers. The data gives insight on the quality of crops, disease emergence and disease pattern,” they explained. Though the apps are free for farmers, JAT generates revenue through other avenues like AgriPole and Analytics service. In the long run, the entrepreneurs will leverage the apps to support agri E-commerce with a hyper-local model.
Given JAT’s holistic approach, it’s no surprise that the enterprise has caught the attention of international platforms. JAT is a case study for both UNESCO and the State University of New York at Buffalo.
JAT is backed by CIIE and IIM Ahemadabad. This organization has become part of digital agenda of the Government of India as JAT has been chosen as the winner for Innovate for Digital India and funded by Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Intel. JAT works closely with Analytics and data science department of IIM Bangalore. JAT has recently launched its apps in Maharashtra in partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). This month the company will foray into Andhra Pradesh through a partnership World Bank as a pilot project. By end of this year, JAT aims to reach one farmer every minute.