Kheyti’s modular and affordable greenhouses offer a chance for small-scale farmers in India to weather-proof their produce.
Millions of small-scale farmers in India face an age-old problem: their crops and, thus, their livelihoods depend on the vagaries of nature. And climate change is increasing the risk factor manifolds.
A Hyderabad-based start-up, Kheyti, has found a weather-proof way to help small-scale farmers grow their crops and turn them into smart farmers. Kheyti, whose name means farming in Hindi, provides 2,500-square-foot, modular greenhouses to them at an affordable cost, bundled with end-to-end services like training, financing and market linkage. Dubbed “Greenhouse-in-a-Box,” these can be used by farmers with small amounts of land—0.2 to 2 hectares—to grow faster-producing crops with greater protection from climate risk.
Kheyti has been co-founded by Saumya, an alumna of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, in Illinois. She has won a number of accolades for her work at Kheyti and was a participant at the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), held in Hyderabad.
Excerpts from an interview.
How did the idea and team behind Kheyti come together?
All of us have been working on farmers’ issues for a long time. We met in the inaugural cohort of Acumen India Fellows, a regional leadership program. The four of us connected over our passion for changing the lives of small farmers and our dissatisfaction that we weren’t doing enough. We started Kheyti by resetting our understanding of the problem. We spoke to almost 1,000 farmers over six months and realized that most of them were struggling with income variability due to climate risk.
What led Kheyti to develop the Greenhouse-in-a-Box solution?
We heard the same stories many times—farmers worked hard all year long, but had their incomes wiped out due to excessive heat, unseasonal rain or a pest attack. Greenhouses have existed for decades and are known to reduce the impact of external environmental risks on crops. Greenhouses multiply yields up to seven times, using only 10 percent water as compared to open farming.
However, we soon realized greenhouses were very expensive for small farmers to invest in. That’s when we decided to design an affordable greenhouse suited to small farmers’ needs.
We also realized that technology alone wasn’t enough. Small farmers face roadblocks at every step, which makes technology a failure for them. This is why we added services like financing, training, inputs and market linkages, so farmers can succeed in greenhouse farming. We are the only company giving small farmers a one-stop-shop to get into greenhouse farming in India.
How is the implementation of your solution going?
We are just finishing our proof of concept with 50 farmers in the state of Telangana and adding 100 more farmers in Andhra Pradesh this year. The pilot was quite successful. Our farmers are earning steady, dependable monthly incomes and protecting themselves from environmental risks. Our biggest success metric was that 14 of our first 15 farmers wanted a second greenhouse from us.
What were your biggest takeaways from the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit?
I was amazed with the scale of GES and its ability to attract people from over 140 countries to Hyderabad. As an entrepreneur, it was a delight to have so many funders, entrepreneurs and policymakers under one roof for three days. The “Womenpreneur” section was special for me, as it helped attendees appreciate the role women entrepreneurs play in building the start-up ecosystem.
For Kheyti, getting a photo-op with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a big highlight. Following GES, we were invited to make a presentation to him on policies that will help double farmers’ income.
Are there any emerging agriculture technologies that excite you?
There’s definitely a lot of buzz around agriculture these days. There’s always a temptation to include advanced technologies like hydroponics and sensors in our greenhouse, which could increase yields further and also reduce human error and manual labor needed in farming.
However, we have to recognize the huge change in behavior that farmers will have to undergo before adopting such technologies, considering even greenhouse farming is very new to them. With time, we hope to make these technologies more affordable and easy to use for all types of farmers.
Do you have any advice for people who are interested in getting involved in such grassroots solutions for their communities?
Our ability to listen to the voices of farmers has been our biggest strength. Some of the best feedback we have got on our model have come from them, and we are immensely proud to have created a product that is truly suited to the needs of the farmers we work with.
Apart from listening to the end-user, my advice to individuals and organizations wanting to get involved at the grassroots level is to start acting. We spend too much time in perfecting the solution and miss out on the learnings we get during implementation. Even if it’s imperfect, roll out that pilot. You will be surprised at the depth of feedback you can get by putting yourself out there.
Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.