This firm thinks a combination of e-commerce and AI can help farmers cut costs
For Indian farmers, fetching a fair price for their produce remains a distant dream. One firm thinks it can offer a fix at the other end of the cycle by reducing input costs.
DestaGlobal is a business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce company. Founded in 2010, it started out as an offline venture for helping farmers before it pivoted to using technology for the purpose. It has so far onboarded 1,500 dealers as well as 120 agro-based companies onto its portal, DestaMart.
“While companies and dealers interact here to list products, farmers access these products via our app Desta Siddhi, which provides discounts on seeds, fertilisers and other items related to harvesting crops," DestaGlobal’s chief executive officer Siddhartha Choudhary told TechCircle.
Choudhary estimates that nearly 9.5 crore farmers in the country cumulatively invest $134 billion annually in agricultural inputs such as machinery, tools, seeds and fertilisers.
He thinks his firm can give back 3% of this money to farmers in the form of discounts by passing on margins. In the process, he says $2 billion can be saved.
Choudhary believes his e-commerce platform also solves issues related to inventory and wastage of products at the manufacturer’s end, which he claims could save an additional $3 billion.
Operated by Mumbai-based Choices Prosperity Solutions India Pvt. Ltd, the firm’s presence is currently limited to Maharashtra.
DestaGlobal has a 30-member team on the ground that engages with dealers, companies and farmers in a bid to bring them aboard the e-commerce platform.
"While 20 people enroll dealers who usually are servicing farmers, the other 10 talk to farmers and help them use the platform via an app/web interface,” said Choudhary. “They also have WhatsApp groups and Marathi Facebook groups where they propagate messages."
The e-commerce portal and the app together aim to help farmers track agri-input supply from the convenience of their homes rather than going from shop-to-shop.
DestaGlobal’s app, Siddhi, was launched a month ago and has a farmer base of 30,000. Choudhary expects this number to grow to a lakh in the coming month.
Choudhary is currently working on adding data science and artificial intelligence to the app, which will help farmers gain more insights into farming practices and also help them increase yield.
DestaGlobal is also considering striking content partnerships in the form of videos and pictorials to boost engagement with farmers.
"While the Siddhi app already has a [Facebook-like] wall where farmers can post videos and pictures of innovative techniques they are using for a certain crop for a certain function such as irrigation, the data science and AI angle will go a long way in helping them," he said.
Tech giants such as Microsoft and SAP have also been experimenting with data in agriculture. But Choudhary feels there is a missing link, given that the language, topography, soil and weather conditions in India changes every 50 kilometres or so.
“While it is true that there is a lot of data available, nobody is analysing it and making it easy for farmers to understand that data and take advantage,” he says. “We plan to do this using our machine learning algorithms with secondary and tertiary sets of data (including weather) that we already have available from our partners.”
He said DestaGlobal was also in talks with Niti Aayog, the government’s policy think-tank, and Krishi Vigyan Kendra (agricultural extension centres) for sharing data.
DestaGlobal plans to hire data scientists for developing AI models. Before that, it plans to close its next round of investment in the range of $1-3 million. This will be in addition to the $1.5 million it raised earlier from US-based impact investment firm Boma Investments.
DestaGlobal is also looking to quickly expand to states such as Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
"Our plan is to tie up with agri-companies in these states so that we can bring their farmers onto our platform at minimal cost," Choudhary said.
He added that DestaGlobal is also partnering with a leading tractor firm and agrochemicals company but did not name them.