For ages, farmers have always looked for ways to improve yields and combat problems caused by rough weather and pest attacks. Due to an information gap (digital divide) in countries like India, agriculture has become "input intensive” but not "knowledge intensive".
This has made agriculture non-profitable. Rural youth are losing interest in farming, and have started migrating to urban areas in search of jobs.
As someone from a farming background, we understood these challenges. Also, after gaining 10 years of global work experience, we looked to address some of these issues with technology intervention. This is what led us to start Jayalaxmi Agrotech.
Smartphone penetration is increasing in rural areas by the day. There is a huge potential to use farmer's Android phones as a tool to deliver knowledge in a constructive and simple manner.
Our idea was simple: Design a set of crop based apps that farmers could download on to their mobiles. Rich with audiovisuals and pictures, the apps are accessible even to farmers who are not literate. They give end to end information about the crop, from sowing to harvesting, and include modules on disease control and fertilizer management. They also provide reminders that help farmers adhere to cropping and treatment schedules.
This can result in farmers adopting best practices that increase productivity and maximize revenue.
What’s more, our solution is aligned to the fifth pillar of the Digital India vision, which has Technology for Farmers as one of its components. So when the Intel & DST – Innovate for Digital India Challenge (IFDIC) was announced, we were ready to give it our best shot.
Before the Innovate For Digital India Challenge, our idea was in its nascent stage and there was no sound business model. Being part of the Challenge equipped us with the technology, management and a business model under one roof.
During the Accelerator Phase, we were encouraged to interview customers. On interaction with farmers, agricultural input companies and other potential customers, we realized that many of our assumptions were wrong. To start with, we found that the Internet reaches just 4.4% of rural Indians. So our first task was to find a solution that would deliver our apps to farmers easily. We also realised that we could not charge farmers for downloading apps.
Additionally, we uncovered a whole new market opportunity: analytics based on real time, localised data that was generated by tracking when and where farmers used our app. No existing product provided such analytics, and we realized that we were sitting on a gold mine.
Intel was pivotal in giving a big boost to our solution. We started using the “Intel Edison board” and explored the possibility to use it as an information dissemination tool. The Intel technology support team fueled the whole journey from ideation to prototype. The in-house technology support team greatly helped us craft our innovation.
Bolstered with cutting edge tech and insights, we ended up with a 3 tier solution. The first – a Mobile app for farmers, second – the ‘Agri pole’ device built on Intel architecture and the third - an Analytics platform.
The Accelerator also gave us valuable access to industry experts and mentors. Their tips and timely suggestions saved us from over engineering as we were in love with our product. Grooming by experts from the best business schools helped us combine innovation with a practical business model. The comprehensive and enlightening mentorship session from Berkeley and CIEE helped us to think globally and act locally.
The challenge gave our team and innovation a vast amount of exposure that resulted in numerous remember able moments. For instance, the day “Agri pole” became a reality was a euphoric moment for all of us. Incidentally we got an opportunity to test the prototype the very next day at the “Agri Event” held in Dharwad where there was huge footfall of farmers. During the event, ‘Agri-pole’ pushed crop specific apps to 3000 farmers in just 8 hours seamlessly.
Another memorable instance was when NDTV featured our innovation in the countryside near Pune. Many farmers started downloading the app during the video recording. One farmer used our app during the shoot to identify a specific disease in his onion crop!
One of the most delightful and encouraging moments for the team was just before we were heading to Delhi for the Top 10 event. We got our first order for 100 Agri-poles from a customer whom we had met during the customer interview process. It was such a surprise, as during the prototype stage itself we got orders for 100 Agri-poles!
Needless to say, meeting our honorable president Shri. Pranab Mukherji was the epitome of our best moments.
The Innovate For Digital India Challenge played a huge role in helping us connect the dots. Participating in the Challenge and receiving huge exposure in the media has created a lot of visibility for us and our product. We received several leads due to this. In the pilot phase itself our apps have been used by 35,000 farmers in India. Today our apps are reaching one farmer in every 6 minutes through the multiplier effect.
This is a great honor and we are thankful to Intel, DST, Mygov and CIEE for making this happen in our lives.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely of the participants and do not represent the views of Intel, the Department of Science & Technology and CIIE in any form or matter.