Ploughing for scale amid Covid: How agritech startups are fighting pandemic to retain farmer connect

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Published: July 2, 2020 6:43 PM

The contactless purchase has been part of the new normal in the agri tech ecosystem. The pandemic has created greater urgency for small farm-owners to shift to digital trading not just for better deals but overall safety and health.

Agritech startup innovations are addressing some of our key challenges connected to agriculture and food production.The government had announced a Rs 1.63 lakh crore package in May for the agriculture sector to recover post-pandemic.

Agritech startups in India have been making multiple changes to their processes to tide over the Covid impact. The startups, which have been working on helping farmers improve productivity, get access to raw materials, farming equipment and streamlining supply chain for better demand and price, have been reorienting operations to not just help farmers recover from the pandemic impact but also sustain the business. For instance, online agri-trading marketplace Agribazaar waived off registration charges for farmers on its platform during the Covid-19 lockdown period. Small farm-owners, who were unable to sell their produce due to lockdown restrictions, nearby mandi closures and logistics challenges, were able to benefit from this move. “Our app has got 400 per cent more registrations both through downloads and tele-registrations,” its co-founder and CEO Amith Agarwal told Financial Express Online. Beyond helping the farmers, this limited period offer also ensured that no farm produce is wasted.

Boosting agriculture and allied sectors were among the key aspects of the Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package announced by the government in May to fight the Covid pandemic. The government had announced a Rs 1.63 lakh crore package and amended the Essential Commodities Act (ESA) to deregulate cereals, pulses, onions and potato in an effort to boost the sector and farmers’ income. Moreover, a new law will be framed to provide an option to farmers for choosing the market they want to sell their produce in by lifting inter-state trade barriers and providing online trading of the produce.

End-to-end farming solutions provider Unnati in order to help farmers get access to agri inputs on time during Covid had started its doorstep delivery at farmers’ premises. It has also started delivering information, content and training farming methods and techniques via video tools and webinars from earlier when such sessions were conducted at village panchayat offices or schools etc. The startup has also launched “farmer/ partner retailer loans completely executed on a digital platform where all the process related to KYC, loan agreement, authentication, verification and disbursement is done digitally for purchase of agri-input and machinery,” Ashok Prasad, Co-founder, Unnati told Financial Express Online.

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Contactless purchase has also been part of the new normal in the agri tech ecosystem. The pandemic has created greater urgency for small farm-owners to shift to digital trading not just for better deals but overall safety and health. “On our platform, once a farmer registers and uploads his produce, buyers like merchants, traders and corporates can give orders for purchase. Once the deal is complete, our on-ground staff picks up the produce for delivery from the farmer’s choice of pick-up point to the buyer’s destination,” said Agarwal.

Through technology, Agribazaar has changed the physical mandi to an electronic mandi available on the farmer’s mobile phone. Since its inception in 2016, the startup has connected around 10,000 traders and processors, over 100 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) with its network of over 2 lakh farmers across 36 states and union territories. The app has so far done sales worth Rs 14,000 crores of GMV.

In a lockdown hit India when the competitors were facing the challenges of a disrupted supply chain, Gurugram-based B2B supply chain startup Crofarm along with its B2B2C arm OTIPY ensured that it fulfils 100 per cent of its orders and deliveries without lapses. Crofarm also leveraged its direct connection with farmers and facilitated on-demand harvesting away from physical mandi. “This was done to keep our farmers, reseller partners as well as the consumers safe from Covid-19 and to follow the social distancing norms in the best possible way,” Varun Khurana, Co-founder and CEO, Crofarm told Financial Express Online. At the same time, with direct purchases from farmers, it helped them by paying the right price for their produce.

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