Living in a remote area in Rajasthan, Balvinder Singh, a farmer, had to travel for three hours from his home and back from a decent agricultural shop. “To collect even basic agricultural inputs like seeds, I would have to travel 35 kms one way on my bike and 70 kms in total. Every trip, I would end up spending on petrol,” says the 25-year-old. Balvinder is one of many farmers across the country facing this problem, among several others.
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This was his situation four years back. Now, things have changed for the young farmer who grows different varieties of cotton and rice in his 4.6 acre land in Hindu Malkot village, Gandhinaga district.
“Whatever input I want for agriculture, I can just call AgriBolo and they deliver it right at my doorstep. I don’t have to spend any money or time on commuting,” says Balvinder.
Rajasthan-based AgriBolo was founded on 13 April 2016 under the company Agrilife technologies Pvt. Ltd., by brothers Arvind Godara and Ajeet Godara. The startup helps farmers with home delivery of agricultural inputs, and e-trading services via their call centre and AgriBolo app.
Agribolo was incubated on 30 June 2019, by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), an international organisation which conducts agricultural research for rural development, headquartered in Patancheru in Telengana.
So far, about 25,000 farmers have already downloaded the app and use it regularly and as for their call centre, they solve about 2,000 queries daily.
Arvind, the 39-year-old co-founder tells The Better India, “We began this startup because coming from a family of farmers, we saw a big gap in the rural sector. Our objective is to provide farmers with all-inclusive farming services that the entire farming community can benefit from. The whole idea is to energise the entire agri ecosystem.”
Farm Services On the Go
The start-up provides a long list of services which farmers can avail via the AgriBolo app available in the English and Hindi languages. Farmers like Balvinder don’t have to travel long distances in search of agricultural inputs anymore.
In addition to that, Balvinder says that AgriBolo also gives him expert advice on the right farm practices. “Everytime the plant goes through a pest attack or I am confused about the fertiliser, I click a picture and WhatsApp it to AgriBolo and they provide the solution immediately,” he informs.
“Although, all the farmers live in the rural areas, it is quite ironic that they have to travel long distances even for small inputs like seeds. Even the tractor showrooms are located in semi-urban and urban areas and not where farmers need them. The agricultural sector is scattered and the supply chain is extremely poor,” says Arvind.
AgriBolo’s ‘Agrimart’, is a one stop marketplace where farmers can buy seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and even get these home delivered free of cost. It also provides rental services for farm equipment like tractors, which require heavy investment. The farmers can pay per use and rent it for a certain duration of time depending on their requirement.
A lot of times farmers find it difficult to find a marketplace to sell their produce. Sometimes, fearing wastage and transport fares, farmers are forced to sell their produce at whatever rates they get at the market. AgriBolo wants to prevent this situation by providing the e-trading service which gives farmers bargaining power.
The farmer can enter their produce details on the app or call on AgriBolo’s toll free number for help. Thereafter, they can go to a point near the village where the AgriBolo ground staff helps in weighing and packaging the produce after which it is kept in their warehouse.
A sample of this produce is then taken to the marketplace and the price quoted is conveyed to the farmer. If the farmer rejects the offer, the produce continues to be stored in the warehouse for free upto 15 days. After this they charge Rs.6 per quintal for a month for the storage services.
Farmers can also enrol in the startup’s seed programme to sell their seeds. AgriBolo’s ground staff checks the seed quality and buys them if they match their standards. This service has two objectives, one to pay a fair price to the farmer and two, to motivate them to produce better seeds.
AgriBolo also facilitates peer discussions within the farming community to build an ecosystem where the farmers can address the issues and share knowledge. The startup’s franchise network which they refer to as ‘AgriBolo Seva Kendra’, present in remote areas across Rajasthan provides farmers with agricultural inputs and advisory.
Arvind feels that one of the most important services that they provide is knowledge on agricultural technicalities. “The farmer can avail these services by calling the toll free number where AgriBolo’s farming experts attend to their queries. We hope that by doing this, the farmers are able to produce better and earn better too,” shares Arvind.
How the Startup came to be Founded
Brothers Arvind and Ajeet come from a farming family and they continue to farm in their 120 acres of farmland. Their family grew wheat, barley, sugarcane and cotton, among other crops.
After Arvind completed his BA degree from Delhi University, he returned to Khairpur Maderan, his native village in Rajasthan. He got really interested in organic farming and got an official certification in 2005.
In 2006, the brothers went on to found Natureland Organics, an organic food brand, producing items like flour, different types of oils, grains and even processed items like pickles, jams, and oats.
The raw produce for all these items not only came from their family farm but also from their network of 10,000 farmers in states like Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh.
Through this venture, they formed farmer clusters across these states. This is when the brothers realised that there are several farmers who were not as fortunate. Hence, they took it upon themselves to empower these farmers by founding AgriBolo and providing various services.
Operations, Challenges and Impact
When AgriBolo first started out, reaching out to farmers and making them realise the advantages of technology was a task. They are also facing issues with expansion to states other than Rajasthan and Haryana.
However, continuing with their aim to help as many farmers as they can, AgriBolo has already reached out to more than two lakh farmers in the two states through the online and offline medium. When they started the call centre, AgriBolo hired a team of women to disseminate agricultural advisory.
Rekha Shekhawat, 23, is one such example. After pursuing a degree in Chemistry from government Ambedkar College in Jaipur, she started looking for jobs in Sri Ganganagar to stay close to home.
“There weren’t too many opportunities here at the time. I heard about AgriBolo starting a call centre and I joined them as an intern. But now, I oversee all the operations, audit all the technical info that is given to the farmer by our agri experts and I also resolve queries. I am the team coach now and I am happy that I was given an opportunity to learn so much,” she says.
So, what is next for AgriBolo and what do they want to achieve?
Arvind says that they aim to become the biggest rural distribution company in the future and develop at least 1000+ seva kendras all over the country.
“The objective is to provide end-to-end solutions under one roof starting from helping them in their farming practices to harvesting and selling. We want to digitally empower and reduce farmer’s distress by making the agricultural set up more organised,” says Arvind signing off.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)