Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Innovative Solutions for Rural India: The Story of Gramik’s Success

In a bid to improve farmer's lives, we are working towards doubling income, providing them with quality farm inputs & expert advice & data intelligence.

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Profiled here is an Indian entrepreneur who built an online marketplace for rural residents and farmers, Mr. Raj Yadav. CEO & Founder of Gramik, describes how he came from modest means before going on to do important work for the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Association for International Medical Research and Development, the Technology and Medicine Council, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Later, he established 18Pixels, an IT services firm of his own, and Gramik, the largest agribusiness-focused online marketplace in India. Mr. Yadav describes the motivation for developing this platform, as well as the difficulties encountered and overcome during its initial rollout. Providing farmers with access to useful information, valuable agricultural inputs, and reputable manufacturers is a big part of Gramik’s mission. The platform’s primary goal is to improve the lives of people living in India’s rural areas by facilitating agricultural needs, across rural India.

An introduction of yourself

I had humble beginnings. Son of a Paan – chai business family. Born and brought up in Uttar Pradesh. Worked outside school hours to support my family. My interests, back then, were same as today. I had an affinity for technology and education. I wanted to study computer science and work in the IT sector. In that small town, I did have big dreams. Rags and riches have one thing in common. Ambition. And I knew what mine was – To succeed financially, with knowledge as my arsenal.

I went on to work with tech-oriented development organizations like the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), Tata Memorial Centre (TMC), and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This led me to work for a larger purpose, and I was drawn to use this tech expertise to advance the community I came from. And when expertise meets intention, an entrepreneur is born.

I founded my own IT service company, 18Pixels. Here we created innovative solutions to help people in rural areas access education and healthcare services. My entrepreneurial experience motivated me to create Gramik, India’s largest Agro-based internet marketplace. With Gramik, the mission is to educate, empower and integrate the Indian farmer, by employing technology to improve and maximize their farming outcomes.

I am here for a cause, with conviction, for my community. All my life work has been a giant, full-circle moment.

What inspired you to create a digital marketplace for Indian farmers and rural communities?

Gramik was inspired to create a digital marketplace for Indian farmers and rural communities based on the need for output maximization in agriculture, highlighted by the allocation of a hefty budget of about Rs 1.25 lakh crore in the Union Budget for 2023-24. We recognized that while all industries are benefitting from online visibility, agriculture, our country’s prime employer, was still behind the curve. With the help of digitization and automation, we wanted to supply farmers with actionable data to position their produce and empower them to access high-value agricultural raw materials, escape adulterated and malfunctioning equipment, and improve their overall output. Additionally, we aimed to strengthen and transform rural communities by providing access to quality manufacturing businesses for the farmers and addressing challenges in logistics and delivery in rural areas through our platform. By facilitating an accelerated B2B movement of goods, we enable businesses to increase their customer network, scale their operations, and garner reviews and ratings from their customers that announce their accountability in the agricultural value chain.  

What challenges did you face when launching the platform and how did you overcome them?

Having founded my own IT service company, 18Pixels, we faced fewer technologicalchallenges. We were lucky to start with a core team that spearheaded their own defined departments. And together, came Gramik.

Winning farmers’ trust was… a process. They had their inhibitions with technology. And rightfully so. Gathering members from our own hometowns was an easier feat, but to win the trust of the farmers of the other villages was a challenge. We helped them overcome their hesitance by showcasing their yield growth rate of around 60% for wheat and up to 100% for vegetables after collaborating with Gramik. Helping on the fronts of high-yielding inputs, analytical counsel, and subsidized procurement of materials, the farmers were convinced to take the leap of smart farming with Gramik.

How do you ensure that the products and services offered on your platform meet the needs of farmers and rural communities?

To adhere to our promises, we adopt the necessary approaches.

First, we follow a Peer Model. Here, we directly work with farmers with our last mile partner Ajivika Sakhi/Peer Partner. These peers assist the farmers with input analysis, field surveillance, climate and soil reports, seed variety education, and training them to use our technology platforms to eliminate middlemen and get what they need faster, at a reduced cost.

Then, we use our Customer-centric Approach. At Gramik, we diligently work with farmers to understand their needs and tailor the technology and services to meet those needs. An almost forensic analysis of the farmer’s field is carried out that highlights which crop will thrive on that soil, and how to strategically maximize crop variety if there is potential to grow more than one a crop.

Strong Partnerships with key stakeholders in the agriculture value chain create a more efficient and integrated agricultural ecosystem. The participants in this ecosystem are input providers, distributors, buyers, and financial institutions, which enable a sustainable, cost-effective conduit for our farmers to get the best farming outcomes possible.

And for agriculture manufacturers, technological acceleration is not just fancy, it is imperative. These businesses have achieved product quality. A lack of proper placement in the market limits their potential. And behind these agricultural equipment manufacturing, are small business owners, with booming capability. A digital marketplace with a network of over 3 lakh farmers and a thousand businesses. These include manufacturers of seeds & fertilizers, pesticides & compost, agricultural tools, plant nurseries & nutrients, food & animal feed, and crop insurance co-operations.

Additionally, Gramik addresses challenges in logistics and delivery in rural areas by leveraging technology to help distributors and retailers liquidate slow-moving stock and increase their reach through our platform.

Our intention informs our impact. Which is why we are committed to improving the livelihoods of farmers. The goal is not just efficiency and profitability, it is also sustainability. Our big data-driven agricultural decision-making translates into renewable and energy efficient techniques that helps decrease the negative impacts of agriculture.

A data-driven approach to farming practices using data analytics and artificial intelligence provide actionable insights for our farmers and peers.

How do you ensure that your platform is accessible to farmers and rural communities who may not have access to the internet or smartphones?

This is where our peer model comes into play. As I said before, peers from our last mile partner Ajivika Sakhi train, coach and assist farmers on relevant far inputs they can use, to place orders, receive orders, make smarter supply chain choices, analyze field surveillance reports, churn out a higher quality of products, have profitability coexist with the sustainability of the land, and much more.

This assistance gives the farmer access to price transparency in the market as well. Now, these farmers get the best price for their produce. One farmer has been able to increase his crop variety from two to four on the same land. All because of the increased income from sale at the best prices.

What impact has your platform had on the lives of farmers, rural youth, and women in India?

There’s this survey by Avendus Capital, from late 2022. It said that the Indian Agritech market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 50 % over the next five years. So, Indian Agritech is forecasted to become a $34 billion market by 2027.

There is such brilliant potential for Agritech stakeholders here. And everyone will get their share of the pie because it’s an interdependent ecosystem.

Gramik services as an interface between farmers and consumers, to realize this economic potential that is revolutionizing, to say the least.

Analyzing gaps, we utilized technology to form solutions keeping the farmer at the centre.

Our IOT-based information arsenal guides the farmer on weather patterns, soil health, crop diseases, and best agricultural practices. This is followed by informed decision-making, and not just intuition. Gramik provides an interface for farmers to order quality inputs like seeds, pesticides, biofertilizers, cattle feed etc at their doorstep.

With that, an extensive network of markets sits at the palm of their hands. Farmers are directly connected to buyers through digital platforms, allowing them to bypass intermediaries and get better prices for their produce. More transparency, less haggling, and increased income, ensured empowerment for farmers.

Farmers improved Field Productivity with Gramik’s innovative technologies such as precision farming, automated irrigation, and crop monitoring tools. Associated farming partners have reported a land yield growth of 60-100% over the last two years.

Gramik helps farmers to access organized credit and just interest rates through digital platforms. Specialized funding options exist for young entrepreneurs and women.

We provide training and capacity building programs to farmers, rural youth, and women to help get them the best out of provided Gramik solutions.

What are your plans for expanding your platform to reach more farmers and rural communities in India?

Currently, we are planning to expand in the Western part of Uttar Pradesh, as well as in Maharashtra. We also plan on to extending our services in the state of Madhya Pradesh by the end of this year.

How do you plan to address the issue of low literacy rates among farmers and rural communities who may not be able to fully utilize your platform?

We organize expert workshops in villages every now and then, to help the young minds in villages to be informed about the Agritech sector, how it’s developing by digitization, the possibilities and avenues of AI, ML and Big Data in agriculture, and how they can act as enablers of revolution in their communities.

We are also proud to have started India’s first Peer Commerce in Agritech. Our programme Kisan Mitra is an exclusive partnership between Gramik and experts in farming. They carry with them the culture and pulse of Indian Agriculture, and act as consultants for farmers across the Gramik network.

This enables Gramik to boost entrepreneurship in the Agritech Sector, and all this knowledge flows back to the Indian farmer.

Communal living and learning are the essence of Indian agriculture and that is the medium we choose for furthering Kisan empowerment.

What are the biggest challenges facing farmers and rural communities in India and how do you plan to address them?

This is a market of essentials. Even in the pandemic, crop demand did not plummet. Rather, it increased. Because everyone was mandated to be at home.

It was the multi-middlemen supply chains that lost their efficiency and could not fulfil deliverables. With sanctions on transportation during the lockdown and limited warehousing, food arrivals in wholesale markets dropped by 69%.

Due to restricted access to technology and low e-commerce awareness among rural enterprises, Agri-input B2B e-commerce encounters difficulties. Rural areas can provide challenges for logistics and distribution, making it challenging for enterprises to reach clients effectively and efficiently.

With so many potholes along the way, a great fraction of farmer produce was wasted. This ecosystem needed digitization, data-driven reliance and macro-level unification for efficiency, profitability, and reliability.

With the use of technology, Gramik helps distributors and retailers get rid of their sluggish inventory chains and broaden their customer base. Our R&D team forecasts which products will be in demand in various regions and displays them in accordance with data on crop trends and regional dynamics.

Gramik has an exceptional team of data analysts/ engineers. They analyse gaps, challenges and learn how to convert them into opportunities. We also keep healthy ties with competitors, as we are all at the beginning of a new green revolution. Thus, we focus on building quality relationships with everyone in the industry. We believe in solving existing problems together, experimenting along the way.

How do you balance the need for profits with the need for social impact in your business model?

So, I’ll showcase how we help make farmers profits. We help them save on two ends. We eliminate middlemen. Thus, transparency obtained from digital platforms, helps them sell at the best price. Next, with Gramik’s data-driven, training-oriented assistance, we provide farmers with customized counsel that study their acreage, list yield-maximizing plans, and supplement required inputs and technology in their farming arsenal. This gives tangible results to the farmer in the form of better quality produce obtained at a reduced cost and sold at the best price.

This profit model for the farmer helps Gramik as well. Gramik saves on the cost by avoiding maintaining multiple storehouses. Keeping the input costs low, the startup can provide the farm inputs to the buyers at a cost lower than the market prices. This strengthens ties with the farming community and fosters trust among them.

What do you see as the future of Agro-based digital marketplaces in India and globally?

Indian Agritech Market is forecasted to become a $34 billion market by 2027. Thus, the future of the Agro-based digital marketplace is brighter than ever globally.

The present times belong to digital revolution. Gramik’s service lies in bringing that digital revolution in the agriculture space. India, being an agriculture-centric economy, holds a massive potential in Agro-based digital marketplaces. We expect to see the emergence of knowledge management portals, like Gramik’s, that host a singular working space for farm inputs management, rural financial services, dairy and cattle, precision agriculture and automation, and other growing services.

Given the circumstances; we expect to see the emergence of community focused Agritech platforms that are the nexus of essential farming requirements.

How do you involve farmers and rural communities in the decision-making processes of your platform?

We conduct weekly meetings through the peer partners of Gramik. Here, the farmers, rural women, and rural youth, peers etc. take stage to share reports on progress and challenges. Feedback is recorded on the quality of farm inputs, guidance provided, and skills which can be imparted to farmers. Using the feedback, Gramik creates plans of action on improving the platform, customizing techniques, and recording key performance indicators for future analyses. All of this is to make the platform work harder for the farmers.

What do you hope to achieve with your platform in the long-term, and how do you plan to get there?

A rising emphasis is being placed on sustainable agriculture, which entails lowering the environmental impact of farming practices, while also assuring long-term food security.

Thus, through the development of novel technologies such as precision farming, regenerative agriculture, and vertical farming, Gramik plans to create farming plans at are sustainable as well as profitable. And no, they are not mutually exclusive.

With Gramik promoting the use of digital technologies such as IoT, AI, blockchain, and big data analytics, farmers will be able to make more informed decisions and optimise their operations, resulting in higher productivity and profitability.

This will help food move faster from farm to fork, for the general public. The industries that use farm yield as raw materials will also witness an efficient movement of crops from farm to factory.

We also see the rise of the conscious customer. Healthier foods and rise of nutrition awareness is also the result of Agritech. We are ready to see how this awareness escalates in the future.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to create digital solutions for social impact?

As everything, I would encourage future Agritech entrepreneurs to lead with intention. And delineate the communities they wish to work for. It is a great guide in moments of crises. In the Agritech space, entrepreneurs looking to create digital solutions for social impact should always believe in the purpose they want to serve, and you will see how solutions formulate themselves.

As a founder, what have you learned?

I have learned that this is game of honesty, timing, and the team you work with. Honest efforts to bring a change and create disruptions in traditions, will not go unnoticed.

Time is a crucial investment. It may take a while to start seeing results, but it is economic given to see gains after a point in time. And gather a smart team. A well-versed team that can see patterns that you might miss. You want to be surrounded by the smartest individuals when you begin a venture because while you lead with conviction, they will lead with expertise. And somehow, that ‘it takes two to tango” situation will harness remarkable results.

Raj Yadav’s humble beginnings and the lessons he learned from his struggles shaped him into the man he is today: an example to many others from similar backgrounds and facing comparable hardships.

Finally, Mr. Raj Yadav, the CEO & Founder of Gramik has an inspiring story of perseverance, creativity, and business acumen. He has combined his knowledge of technology with his enthusiasm for education to launch a digital marketplace that will transform India’s agricultural industry. There were many obstacles to overcome during the platform’s launch, but thanks to his team’s perseverance, they were ultimately successful. (www.theseedpharm.com) Access to information, tools, and high-quality agricultural resources is what has made Gramik such an important platform for farmers and rural communities. Gramik’s role in facilitating B2B movement of goods and empowering farmers will become increasingly important as India’s agricultural sector continues to grow. The author’s life story exemplifies how entrepreneurialism can be a force for positive social change.

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