While startups have disrupted a number of industries around the world, India is often seen as the true test of new and revolutionary offerings. Health-tech, Fintech, Edu-tech, eCommerce have made huge inroads in India over the last few years, and now, startups are also beginning to overhaul India’s traditional mainstay – the agriculture sector. The frontrunner in this domain is a startup that traces its origins to Bihar – DeHaat.
Now Gurgaon-headquartered, DeHaat is one of the fastest-growing startups in India’s Agri-Tech sector and among its highest-valued, having raised almost $42 million in little over a year. Now 9 years old, it aims to offer farmers a range of services that encompass supply chain, agricultural inputs, advice on crops, pests, soil and seeds, and a lot more. These services are available online as well as via on-ground outlets. Republic World’s Ankit Prasad recently spoke to DeHaat’s co-founder and CEO Shashank Kumar who elaborated on DeHaat’s offerings and future plans.
How DeHaat caters to the necessities and requirements of Indian Farmers:
DeHaat CEO Shashank Kumar said that his company’s approach has been to redefine the problems of the Indian farmers who require multiple agricultural inputs, both tangible and intangible, and face problems at every stage, especially in selling of their crops. They need different touchpoints in every season at various stages, he said listing what farmers require.
- Advisory related support about which crops to grow, the right linkages for the seed, fertilizers & pesticides, financing, insurance, machinery.
- They need a lot of information related to the weather
- At the end of the season, they need logistics, warehousing and help to sell the produce at a better price.
- While chasing different people and channels for various agricultural requirements, farmers often lose efficiency. This is especially detrimental as farmers in India are small with one to 2-hectare of land.
“In the case of Indian farmers, the overall profitability is low, overall productivity is very poor. In terms of numbers, the average Indian farmer makes somewhere around Rs 70,000 to 80,000 in a year. It’s unbelievable as this is the level of income for a family size of five people to live. According to the government records, India has more than 142 million farmers and every season every year they are facing the same pain & problems”, Shashank Kumar said.
DeHaat – ‘One stop solution to Farmers’
As Shashank Kumar puts forth, “DeHaat is working with the vision of bringing all of these agricultural issues under one roof. That’s why we call ourselves a ‘One-stop solution to farmers’, a Full Stack platform summarised as – Beej Se Bazaar Tak”.
Kumar stated, “if we talk about the national economy where agriculture contributes close to 15% to the GDP and that means the overall market size is close to $350 billion. But at this point, the irony at another chain of the food chain is that the sector holds a bunch of inefficiencies. There is a long gap between farmers and the right technologies, market-right solutions. DeHaat is bringing every single right technology and channel for farmers under one roof at highly accessible as well as affordable rates”.
DeHaat’s CEO explained that the firm provides certain touchpoints to farmers:
- Advisory & Consultations – Farmer advice from DeHaat is super customised and users do not get charged for the advisory. He said the company is working on digitising land parcels
- Onboarding and order fulfilment – Onboarding and acquisition of farmers happen in a complete digitized way, through the DeHaat application or call centre. For the order fulfilment, DeHaat 1423 physical centres come into the picture.
- Working with Farmers – Farmers receive Free advice and orders placed by them are serviced by the physical aspect of the ‘Phygital – physical + digital’ DeHaat centres, which are not necessarily located at the district headquarters, rather close to the farm areas so that the farmers do not have to travel too far and it’s easily accessible for them.
DeHaat’s CEO reveals company’s origin story
Shashank Kumar said, “Agriculture is not an easy sector to work with, for the simple reason as there were no footprints to follow. There was advisory, archives or directory to refer. So from the very first day, we started to build our very own crop and pest database, with a vision that down to line if we have to advise farmers there has to be a proper library & databases with regional context. The sector talks about the scale targeting corporate, larger buyers and agricultural input companies. In the early days, it was difficult to convince any of them because the scale was minuscule. Similarly, it was difficult to convince farmers as well. Other aspects like data penetration, technology penetration overall ecosystem was difficult”.
How DeHaat turned its grassroots challenges into its strength
The company’s CEO added, “In the early days, it was very manual as we used to have one to one interaction with the farmers but now we strongly believe that starting the journey from Ground Zero has definitely turned into our strength. So the last 9 years it has been thoroughly a bottom approach, with respect to time, we graduated upwards. As a team, we developed a deep understanding of this core Agri supply change and behavioural aspects of the stakeholders- whether it is farmers, Agri companies, governments, etc. Last but not least, our bouquet of services has been evolving and our vision remains the same- to take care of end-to-end value”.
How DeHaat is using technology
“We are dealing with 10 thousand agricultural inputs every single day,” Kumar reveals, recounting, “Initially, on the advisory side, we used to have physical farmers meeting, training consultations. After that there was Interactive Voice Response (IVR) on the feature phone, then there were Call centres and now it purely app-based- which is a completely new set of technology of machine learning and AI.”
How DeHaat managed to emerge stronger from the Pandemic
Shashank Kumar elaborated the two things were largely observed by DeHaat during the pandemic.
Mindset of different stakeholders towards building a strong backend
“2020-21 has been a super busy financial year for DeHaat so far. Effectively, it is a platform of farmers representatives, who can bring, receive and negotiate the best possible deal for every individual registered and associated farmer. In India, supply chains do not bother much about the backend as the most amount of money is spent on the front-end, whether it be B2C (Business to Consumer), E-commerce players, FMCG space. The pandemic situation somehow forced people to start thinking of having a transparent, control supply chain. People started thinking about the source and safety of the groceries, food or vegetables they are consuming, whether it’s reliable or not. It was a great point of inflexion for everyone from consumer to forefront companies. People started to focus on farming,” he said.
“Digital adoption is something that we have experienced at a phenomenal rate in the last 10-12 months. So the number of downloads increased and interaction on call centres went up,” Kumar stated
DeHaat: $42 million raised in last 12 months, FarmGuide acquired
“We closed our last institutional round in the month of March 2020 which was a 12 million dollar round and the recent one which we closed in January was a 30 million dollar round. These funds will be used by us for Network Expansion and acquisition of farmers,” Shashank Kumar says. “So far we have focused on the eastern part of India as we started from Bihar. But now we will expand it to other important geographies like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. We are targeting to have over 6000 DeHaat Centres and to connect with 2 million farmers by March 2022,” he added.
Opening a window into the future, the DeHaat CEO spoke about some of what is to come, including from FarmGuide – another agri-tech startup that DeHaat recently acquired. “Tracking each and every land parcel through satellite imagery and building lots of analytics and intelligence for the farmers, so that without being physically present at the farm we can get to know about the crop stress, water stress, nutrient stress and accordingly we can advise and guide the farmers. This type of advanced type of technology will be brought by the Farm Guide team”.