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Agritech Start-Up DeHaat Helps Farmers Grow and Earn Better DeHaat connects small farmers to agriculture business companies for the former's various needs-seeds, fertilizers, equipment, crop advisory, financing and market linkage through a network of trained micro entrepreneurs.

By Saurabh Kumar

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DeHaat Founder Shashank Kumar

Nearly 80 per cent of Indian farmers have a net annual income of less than INR 70,000. Due to the small-ticket size of transactions, they don't have access to agriculture value chain services. What compounds the problem is the number of layers between farmers and businesses. The industry holds a bunch of inefficiencies and lacks transparency.

This was the problem statement that Shashank Kumar wanted to solve.

In 2012, he co-founded DeHaat, an information and communications technology-based platform which connects small farmers to agriculture business companies for the former's various needs—seeds, fertilizers, equipment, crop advisory, financing and market linkage through a network of trained micro entrepreneurs.

"DeHaat improves the livelihood of Indian farmers irrespective of the land size and cropping pattern. Today, more than 500 agri-business companies are getting direct access to 220,000-plus farmers. Output players realize significant reduction in post-harvest loss along with increased scope of customisation in terms of packaging and at the same time, agriculture input players get a transparent channel for farmers' feedback for their products," said 34-year-old Kumar.

Kumar graduated from IIT-Delhi in 2008 and also did a minor MBA from Department of Management Studies, IIT Delhi in the same year. He worked as an associate for two-and-a-half years in a management consulting firm that dealt with the supply chain, retail and fast moving consumer goods sectors, before launching DeHaat in Patna, Bihar.

As of today, DeHaat has listed more than 3,500 agricultural inputs from 50-plus companies including UPL, IIL, IFFCO, DuPont, Tata and Bayer, among others. More than 200 institutional buyers—modern trade retail, FMCG players and traders—of different kinds of farm produce such as corn, wheat, rice, fruits and vegetables are connected through the platform. DeHaat offers a feature to capture farm-level queries of farmers and send them to people with technical expertise on a real-time basis. It also has an exhaustive crop-pest database which has been developed in-house for all prevailing crops.

"At present, we are focusing on a bundle of value chain services such as input, advisory and output, and we have successfully established strong collaboration with various institutions," said Kumar, adding that based on historical and current transactions and communications between farmers and DeHaat, the platform has derived a unique farmers' rating mechanism which makes them avail credit or other value-added services as well.

DeHaat aims to become the one stop destination for farmers, right from advising on which crop to grow, to where to sell. Kumar said farmers get benefitted in three ways—reduction in cost of cultivation while buying inputs; improvement in farm productivity due to timely and customized advisory; and better farm gate price. "Consequently farmers experience more than 50 per cent increment in their net income from agriculture," he added.

DeHaat has developed a full-stack platform for last-mile delivery wherein individual farmers communicate with DeHaat through a toll free number or a mobile application. At present, more than 520 micro entrepreneurs are serving nearly 220,000 farmers in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha through the platform. The start-up aims to create a network of 1,600-plus micro entrepreneurs to serve 500,000 farmers by March 2021 in eastern India alone.

Recently, the company started offering financial services to associated farmers by using its tech and data platform. At the same time, the company is going to provide more customized crop advisory solutions to farmers through a unique combination of spatial data and physical transactional data. This will help reduce the cost of cultivation as well as improve the yield of crops. Eventually, the company will be in a position to offer 100 per cent transparency and farm-level insights to the agriculture industry, believes Kumar.

Talking about challenges, Kumar said building trust with the farming community is the determining factor. "DeHaat has been following the "farmers-first' approach and as a platform, we don't focus on specific crops or services. This round-the-year bundle of services create an amazing stickiness with farmers," he said.

Kumar claims that in DeHaat's case, value proposition for farmers as well as agriculture businesses are significant as well as consistent and hence the company has established a strong unit economics across enterprise. "Technology acts as an enabler and hence plays a vital role to achieve a humongous scale in this $400-billion industry," said Kumar.

Saurabh Kumar

Former Editor, Special Projects

Journalist since 2007. 

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