DeHaat: Tech use yielding farmers better returns

This startup has built a full-stack agro-tech platform, serving over 12 lakh farmers across 11 states in the country

Application of cutting-edge IT can address most of the issues farmers face today -- soil quality, need for advisory and financing, supply chain gaps, as well as the challenges posed by climate change” Balaya Moharana, senior vice-president, technology, DeHaat
Application of cutting-edge IT can address most of the issues farmers face today — soil quality, need for advisory and financing, supply chain gaps, as well as the challenges posed by climate change” Balaya Moharana, senior vice-president, technology, DeHaat

DeHaat, touted as one of the fastest growing startups in the Agri Tech sector, has been much in news since it raised $115-mn in a Series D round from Sofina, Lightrock and Temasek last year, inching closer to becoming a Unicorn. This was followed by a thrust into exports and the output vertical with the strategic acquisition of YCook and Helicrofter that is providing significant price benefits to farmers, along with access to global markets.

One of the reasons behind the success of this agri-tech player – founded by alumni of IIT Delhi, IIT Kharagpur, IIM Ahmedabad and other top institutions – has been its judicious use of technology to help farmers. “We have been focused on resolving issues of the Indian farming ecosystem by the use of technology, bringing together the entire basket of agricultural value chain offerings under one umbrella. We have been able to build the largest full-stack agro-tech platform in India (beej se bazaar tak),” says its senior vice-president of technology, Balaya Moharana.

India’s agriculture sector is increasingly embracing technology. Besides the mechanisation of farming, IT penetration in the agriculture sector is happening at multiple levels. “The application of cutting-edge IT can address most of the issues farmers face today – soil quality, need for advisory and financing, supply chain gaps, as well as sustainability,” Moharana says.

DeHaat, whose journey started in 2012, realised quite early that Indian farmers needed a full-stack agri-tech platform that could bring together the full basket of agricultural value chain offerings under a unified umbrella. It first employed its business model in Bihar and has since successfully scaled to 11 states, building a network with over 8,000 micro entrepreneurs and serving 12 lakh+ farmers. Its team has grown to over 1,800 professionals, with expertise in growth strategy, supply chain management, technology and agricultural science.

Some of the major technological solutions DeHaat has built are around credit/finance, insurance bundling of products, and data-driven farming methods. Take, for instance, farm financing. In the absence of formal credit, farmers have had to rely on informal credit sources. It’s a huge problem, not one easy to tackle. So how is DeHaat making a change here?

“This goes back to the time when we started building an on-ground retailer network and then digitised the entire operations by using point-of-sale terminal devices to capture all operational data. This helped us build a scoring mechanism that provides accurate profile parameters for the rural credit system to work – in terms of financing the right set of services and tools rather than providing cash directly to the farmer,” says Moharana.

Data-driven farming has not taken off in India yet. “So, we identify the right innovation happening in the sector by using a platform-driven approach. Instead of having everything in-house, we invite third parties, experts, small startups, etc. that are doing commendable work, making use of the offerings which are most scalable and affordable,” he says. “The focus is on creating an open platform to provide farmers the best personalised advisory. We help farmers access multiple data sources based on their inputs to predict stress, and offer them solutions to combat it.”

Since agriculture has its risks, affordable insurance plans can make a significant difference to the farmer, says Moharana. “Though insurance schemes are mandatory for farmers as per government rules, very few farmers are aware of the same, and able to enroll themselves to avail the benefits. We realised that a better way to design an insurance product for farmers is to bundle it with the inputs he is buying.”

In short, empowering farmers with technology-based tools has helped them predict weather patterns more accurately, adopt more sustainable irrigation practices, reduce wastage and, in turn, enjoy better yields and higher incomes, he adds.

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