Half a decade ago could you have imagined how data, analytics and technology can help network farmers with supply chains, monitor ethical farming practices, and improve crop management?
I couldn't have but Sachin Shende and his partner Giles Barker evolved and developed KisanHuban an agri-tech start-up. Their sole intention? To give farmers a meaningful and a simple decision-support platform. But how did this idea of role of data management in agriculture come about?
'Farm manager no different from a portfolio manager'
“I grew up in a farming background in India, and studied agricultural engineering and got into software and data” Sachin Shende, Co-founder and CEO of KisanHub.
“I could see the similarity between the financial sector and the agriculture business in the sense that the role of a farm manager is not different from a portfolio manager. Both are managing assets and there is a risk return to both the assets,” explained Shende.
However, in finance there is portfolio management or risk analytical systems like Bloomberg, Reuters while in agriculture Shende observed that is not the case. These became the starting points where Shende noticed that there wasn't a “collaborative environment” in the food&beverage industry.
“We realised the bigger problem with the top supermarkets of procurement of produce either through the farmers or the aggregators. So that's where we manage the communication and data flow between the farmers and enterprises and vice-a-versa.
From the beginning KisanHub's ambition was in building a horizontal scalable platform to bring in multiple data sources in one place that would assist farmers in taking their decisions.” reveals Shende.
KisanHub is a software service company for AgriFood Enterprises. So essentially, farmers are still the end users of their system but they have shifted their business model from one-to-one engagement with the farmers to working with supply chains. This means that they work with large food&beverage companies and through them are directly connecting the farmers.
Connecting 50,000 farmers and procuring Barley for beer
“We're working with world's largest brewer AB Inbev which owns beer brands like Corona and they procure barley from some 50,000 farmers around the world and our work is to connect all of those farmers on a same platform with their procurement team. We also make them more sustainable and ensure they are growing efficiently, using the required amount of water and full addressability of where the barley has come from and to when it goes to the factory” explained Shende.
Most of the major consumer brands whether it is KitKats, or Potatoes for the crisps, there are farmers for each brand growing these crops across the world and KisanHub enables the supply chain.
Fairtrade, weather stations and satellite pictures
But what about fair-trade at a time when modern slavery and human exploitation or even corruption in trade and food industry is rampant. A Fairtrade study this year found that in top grower Ivory Coast 58% of cocoa farming households certified by the scheme earned incomes below the extreme poverty line. Fair-trade is a monitoring system put in place but even after that there are not enough resources or the tech is not put in place to give consumers the confidence that the produce has come from ethical farming practices.
“KisanHub can bring the transparency in those supply chains or where the crops are procured from outside the country,” said Shende.
With KisanHub there is complete visibility on that front because every grower and supply chain is registered on their platform and they say they know everything right from where the produce has come to what chemicals were used in the production of the ingredient.
“Nowadays car insurance companies install a black-box in their cars and that way the premium is decided. Our platform is similar, because we have weather stations, sensors as part of the deployment, we take satellite pictures for the analysis of the crop and have arrangements with data providers which allows us access to pictures of farm lands and monitoring of the crop management and yield growth,” explained Shende.
Trial Platforms and how less money can yield more
Currently the start-up functions on a dual platform of supply chain management route to the market and trial platforms however, the latter seems to be explored.
“Trail platforms are similar to clinical trials which enables capturing and visualisation of data, collaboration of research teams within that company. It essentially means that it allows experimentation with the crop,” said Shende.
This means that farmers are involved in commercial as well as research based study. Additionally, these trials also extend beyond the food&beverage industry and extend into fertilizer, agrochemical companies as well. According to the UK Cross Government Program on food security research close to 48% of the food consumed in the UK is imported. It is important for the consumers to know and understand that similar sorts of farming standards of the UK are applied in those international countries as well.
“There are high standards of farming in the UK and it is not a concept of cheap food,” said Shende
Mitigating the risks and improving profit margins
So how can technology and data play an important role in crop management practice and help farmers in efficient and quality crop production at a time when smartphones have penetrated into rural Indian farms as well? According to Shende, most of these farmers spray pesticides even if there is no chance or possibility of a particular infection.
“They have this PMT spraying schedule because they don't want to risk their crop to be ruined and it is good if pesticides are used in adequate quantities.
“What we do is make them understand through weather parameters how and when the risk levels are low for a fungal infection so that there is barely any need for spraying.
We help in improving the quality of the crop as well manage their expenses and improve their profit margins,” explained Shende.
At a time when UK is poised for Brexit and Indo-UK trade relations are anticipated to foster more bi-lateral trade, start-ups like KisanHub can blend the scientific prowess of the UK and agricultural strength of India.
“There are a lot of similarities between the UK and India in the agricultural sector in terms of agronomy, crop science, crop management. Some of these practises can be taken back to India which can improve the technical advisory to the farmers which would help them grow better or more using less resources”