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Helping Hand for Farmers

Patna-based Farms and Farmers Foundation offers mobile phone apps and other services to help farmers increase their income from agricultural activities.


Agriculture is one of the most important sectors of the Indian economy. According to the Economic Survey 2017-18 by the Government of India, the agriculture sector employs more than 50 percent of the total workforce in India and contributes around 17 to 18 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Powered by the belief that technology can help Indian farmers make better use of resources, Patna-based Farms and Farmers (FnF) Foundation works with them to increase their income from agricultural activities by improving profitability from their land.

Founded in 2010, FnF’s programs provide farmers cost-effective ways, using basic technology, to learn and understand more about crop patterns and their marketing. Co-founder Shashank Kumar’s rural background and his work with a management consulting firm after graduation showed him the problems leading fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies like PepsiCo and Britannia faced while procuring materials from farmers. Kumar is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi. He wanted to reduce this gap between buyers and farmers, and ensure that farmers grew crops that were best suited for the available soil and made healthy profits too. With his friend, Manish Kumar, and 13 farmers, he launched the project in Chakdharia village in Bihar’s Vaishali district to educate farmers about soil quality, crop selection and marketing of their products.

It was not easy to get the farmers on board, but they formed a team with advisers from IIT Kharagpur, Bihar Agricultural University, Krishi Vigyan Kendras and other institutions to help them reach their audience more effectively. Based on the soil conditions, they convinced the farmers to grow more remunerative crops like rajma (kidney beans) instead of the staple wheat, and this helped them make a 100 percent profit. Soon after, a founding team was formed with other professionals like Amrendra Singh, Shyam Sundar Singh, Adarsh Srivastava and Abhishek Dokania.

 

Services to farmers

FnF’s services are made available to farmers through a model called DeHaat. It covers different elements of the agriculture value chain, including farm preparation, input supply, advisory services and market linkage. The advisory services, provided both offline and online, are at the core of the model and are customized to suit the needs of every farmer. “Our aim is to bring 360 degree agricultural services to Indian small landholders,” says Kumar.

Through the offline mechanism, in-house agricultural experts visit the farmers and provide real-time solutions to their queries. This also encourages direct interaction between the farmers and the experts. Alternatively, farmers can send their queries through the DeHaat mobile app or through the interactive voice response (IVR) system. Solutions are provided within 48 hours of registering the queries. This advisory system enables farmers to make effective input- and output-related decisions and, thereby, reduce costs. 

 

Encouraging microenterprise

Another important aspect of the model is the creation of microentrepreneurs to take up the role of DeHaat coordinators. They manage the DeHaat centers located in villages and are the bridge between FnF and the farmers. The main source of revenue for the coordinators, who are young people from the communities they engage with, is the commissions earned through facilitating the sale of the crops and from a portion of the input cost paid by farmers.

This involvement of local people, as not just beneficiaries but also as enablers of the program, has ensured sustainability of the DeHaat model. “Currently, we are serving over 160,000 farmers through a network of 302 DeHaat coordinators and our mobile-based technology in Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh,” says Kumar. “We have plans to expand to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in 2021. FnF is also facilitating 12 farmer producer organizations in Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha.”

FnF trained several microentrepreneurs on “agribusiness, agricultural technology and ICT [information and communication technology] modules, and supported them to provide end-to-end farmers’ services related to agri-input, crop advisory and market linkage,” as part of its Millennium Alliance project. Millennium Alliance is a consortium of partners including the Government of India, the United States Agency for International Development, Facebook and others. The program provides funding, capacity building and business development support to Indian social enterprises.

The key benefit of the DeHaat centers for farmers is that they can buy inputs and sell outputs in their villages itself. “Our vision is to provide better access to agricultural inputs, advisory services, credit and market linkage of farm produce to farmers at just a click of a button using the DeHaat app or calling on the DeHaat toll-free number 1800-1036-110,” says Kumar. “Any synergy or collaboration in this direction is more than welcome.”

 

Paromita Pain is an assistant professor of Global Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.