Aside from providing technological assistance to the farmers in Telangana, the start-up called Agrowbook is also helping two young people from a small village to set up a business of gooseberry candies.
With digital connectivity slowly spreading to remote parts of the country, farmers in small villages are now becoming empowered with new-found technology in their hands. This fact struck Subhash Lode, an engineer by profession and son of a farmer, on one of his visits to his native village near Yawatmal district in Maharashtra. He saw some of the illiterate farmers using smartphones and that was a pleasant surprise. When he further inquired about what they used their smartphone for, the answers were vague – using certain apps or listening to songs, etc.
That’s when the idea of developing an online platform for farmers struck Subhash. Having earlier worked alongside his father on their own farm, he was familiar with different problems the farmers faced.
Of these, there were two main issues: logistical difficulties and the lack of knowledge.
“You see, sometimes these problems seem small, but to a farmer, they are huge. For example, to buy seeds, pesticides and fertilisers, a farmer has to go to a ‘krishi kendra’ (agriculture centre), which is located at the ‘taluka’ or ‘mandal’ level. On an average, any village is in a 12-13 km radius from a kendra. The farmer has to spend time as well as money during these trips. Based on the annual schedule of a farmer, it takes at least 20 such trips in a year. So it turns out to be a major drain of meagre resources,” Subhash explains.
Further, the lack of proper knowledge about pesticides and fertilisers among farmers gives the vendors an opportunity to misguide them and maximise their own sales.
“When a farmer observes any pest infection growing on his farm, he goes to the vendor and explains the problem verbally. The vendor then hands him three or four different pesticides with instructions on how to use them. There’s no way for the farmer to know whether or not it is the right pesticide. Big private companies usually reward the vendors in some form when their sales are high and therefore the latter sell even unnecessary products to farmers,” says Subhash.
So when he decided to quit his job in the IT industry and pave the way for his start-up Agrowbook, he decided to focus on these two problems. One and a half years ago, this led to starting a social networking solution for farmers in Telangana. The services Agrowbook offers are simple and effective. The website team appoints a person to be a bridge between both the farmer and the vendor, bringing them together on a single platform to ensure right pricing. This also serves as an online marketplace with a functional supply chain, other than acting as an information hub for users where updates on different government schemes, agricultural news as well as videos, are featured.
The platform also runs a helpline for the farmers. A farmer can simply upload the image of his/her pest-infected farm on the platform and receive advice about the pesticide required. The Agrowbook experts conduct the required research and analysis for the farmer’s problem and provide a solution.
After functioning in the online space in the beginning, Agrowbook has also started operating at the ground level in a small village in Telangana.
“The online platform has a user base of around 1,500 farmers. However, we realised that connectivity is still a major issue in small villages and farmers need assistance when it comes to technology,” says Subhash.
Agrowbook has now opened a centre for agricultural assistance in a remote village called Pedanalla Balli in the Khammam district of Telangana. It has set up a broadband facility here, which is used by the farmers as well as the youth in the neighbouring villages free of cost. The start-up helps them get familiar with new technologies and enables them to become effective users. Started two months ago, the centre currently caters to six villages in the area that have a total population of over 7,000. They are also in the process of setting up a telemedicine facility at the centre, where the Agrowbook team will connect the local people with doctors in Hyderabad for online medical assistance.
Agrowbook is also working on two new products, one of which is developing a price predictor that would allow a farmer to get an estimate for the price of his crop during the harvest season beforehand. Aside from that, the company is also trying to develop a farmer balance-sheet that would assist him/her in managing finances in a simple manner. The two tools will soon be available in the form of Android applications. Narrating how such projects help make the right connections, he talks about the Koya tribe in the district.
“The tribal community lives around 3 km from the Pedanalla Balli village in the forest area and only a few people from the tribe have become a part of mainstream society.” Indian gooseberries, popularly known as ‘amla’, are found in abundance in this area and the tribals make a living by selling the fruit in the local market. Subhash noticed that these tribals only come to the village on the bazaar day and sell the product at a very low price. “I wondered whether there was any way to help them start a profitable business and that’s what led to setting up a business of making amla candy. We identified two young men from the Koya community who were interested in starting an enterprise of their own. They are among the very few from their community to have received formal education,” he says. The two men include Rajesh who is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts course, and Ganesh who has completed his education till Class 12.
Agrowbook helped the duo learn the recipes and preservation methods and soon they started manufacturing amla candy at their homes.
“When we tested the product, it was instantly loved by everyone. Plus, it’s a healthy alternative to chocolate and candy,” says Subhash.
Agrowbook is currently running a crowd-funding campaign to help Rajesh and Ganesh set up a medium-scale production facility in their village. To contribute to their fund-raising campaign, click here. To know more about Agrowbook, visit the official website here.