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Widespread Agricultural Distress: Hyderabad Social Entrepreneur Uses Big Data To Change Farmers’ Lives

The app, which provides all farming-related information and communication in Telugu on a single platform, is significantly reducing the time and cost of cultivation for a farmer in real time.

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The startup, which can sustain for next six months on its own, is receiving proposals from different investment companies and Naveen says he will go with whoever is close to his idea. Pixabay

At a time of widespread agricultural distress caused by successive droughts, unremunerative farming and debt-trapped rural economies, a young man with his mobile app is showing how change can be brought in the life of farmers at the grassroot level.

In 2016, V. Naveen Kumar, who had no personal knowledge of agriculture, was so moved by the suicide of a farmer in a village in his native Warangal district of Telangana that for the next three months he ran around like a man possessed, meeting farmers to understand their problems. He interacted with agri-entrepreneurs and other stakeholders to find if there is a way he can bring some change in the lives of the financially besieged farmers.

Today, over 1.24 lakh farmers in Telugu-speaking states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh use his mobile app NaPanta to avail a host of services, all free of cost. And this MBA degree holder is satisfied that he is contributing his mite to bring some change in the way they practise agriculture.

NaPanta, which was started in June 2017, saw, surprisingly, thousands of farmers download the app. The launch of the pocket-friendly Reliance Jio and the boom in use of WhatsApp brought more people on the platform.

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While the information on app will clear regular doubts of farmers, for specific doubts a farmer can ask questions to a panel which includes agriculture scientist and experts.
Pixabay

The app, which provides all farming-related information and communication in Telugu on a single platform, is significantly reducing the time and cost of cultivation for a farmer in real time.

“I am confident that if farmers follow my platform, they will be able to save 20 per cent on expenditure and get 10 per cent extra yield. We can make 30 per cent difference,” V. Naveen Kumar, Founder and Managing Director, NaPanta, told IANS.

While the country has many apps to help farmers, there is no single app covering the entire gamut of agriculture activity ranging from selection of crops to locate the market offering highest price for their produce. From advisory services and weather information to market prices and e-commerce, the digital platform offers the comprehensive agri eco-system.

The app has tools like crop expenditure (which helps farmers track their expenses in an organized manner), crop protection, weekly agro advisory, agri forum, market price, agri e-commerce, crop insurance, weather, food processing technologies, and soil testing information.

A farmer can also buy or rent an agri-equipment as per the requirements of his crop cycle and can also sell his produce for the highest price without any middleman.

The app also allows farmers to access real-time and dynamic information pertaining to daily market prices of 300 agri-commodities across over 3,500 markets, along with three-year price trend.

Currently available in Telugu and English, NaPanta App provides complete pest and disease management details, covering 90 crops and with suggestions about 3,000 pesticide products.

Naveen Kumar, who earlier worked as a Credit Relationship Manager in ICICI Bank and later as Credit Risk Manager with HDFC Bank before co-founding apnaloanbazaar.com, a retail loan distribution services portal, says he is trying to build core competence among the farmers.

According to him, for all their requirements, small and marginal farmers depend on third parties like distributors of the companies.

“With no knowledge of agriculture practices and requirements of a particular farmer, they try to push their products for some extra profit and as a result the farmers either suffer crop losses or end up incurring huge expenditure.”

With agriculture extension officers of the government more focused on clerical related activities rather than extending actual help, he believes there is a huge gap between farmers and the government initiated activity.

“Farming is not depending on a single advisory. It is a combination of various services. We identified all that a farmer needs in day to day life and ensured that he has easy access to the advisory so that whenever he gets a doubt, he can get it cleared then and there,” he said.

Naveen said several states including Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu were showing interest in the platform. The app will be available in Hindi and Tamil in June-July this year. “If everything goes well in next 3 to 5 years, we will have our presence in 7-9 states,” said Naveen, who heads a five-member team.

While the information on app will clear regular doubts of farmers, for specific doubts a farmer can ask questions to a panel which includes agriculture scientist and experts.

NaPanta, an incubatee of International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) also gets the institute’s help in business activity, reaching the farmers and engagement with agri-input companies.

farmers

“With no knowledge of agriculture practices and requirements of a particular farmer, they try to push their products for some extra profit and as a result the farmers either suffer crop losses or end up incurring huge expenditure.” Pixabay

The startup, which can sustain for next six months on its own, is receiving proposals from different investment companies and Naveen says he will go with whoever is close to his idea.

With huge amount of data being generated on the digital platform, Naveen embarked on building big-data architecture with crowd-sourcing information. It is building database with information on major crops in a particular area, major insects which affect a crop, cropping system, sequential cropping model, pesticides and where the farmers sell their produce.

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He is confident that this data will be a goldmine in the coming years.

“This kind of crowd-sourcing information is not available in the agriculture sector in India. We are getting information from actual farmers and not third parties.” (IANS)

Next Story

Indian Farmers Grow Herbs To Save Farms From Hungry Monkeys

Farmers in India switch to herbs to thwart hungry monkeys

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Indian farmers switch to herb cultivation
Farmers face huge loses due to monkeys attacking their farms in India. Pixabay

A group of farmers from Magroo village in India’s northern state of Himachal Pradesh listens intently as agriculture experts hold a workshop to explain how growing herbs instead of traditional crops such as rice, wheat and corn could save their farms from the ravages of monkeys.

For years they have waged a losing battle with growing hordes of the red-faced rhesus macaques. Displaced by shrinking forests and rapidly spreading urban centers, the primates raid farms in several northern Indian states, searching for food and destroying crops worth millions of dollars.

“In the day we roam around with dogs and we use an air gun,” said farmer Babu Ram. “Then they run off quickly, otherwise it is difficult to keep away the monkeys.” But guarding the fields at night poses a challenge, especially for those that aren’t close to his home.

The growing menace has prompted many in the state nestled in the Himalayan mountains to abandon farming – an estimated 40 per cent of the farmland here is fallow as dejected farmers gave up planting crops.

Indian farmers switch to herb cultivation
Farmers in India learning to save their farms from Monkeys through workshops. Pixabay

Agriculture experts are pushing a solution: switching to herbs only protects their crops but also fetches higher profits.

Monkeys do not attack crops such as aloe vera, a herb with medicinal properties. And they fetch better profits due to surging demand for herbs from domestic companies making medicinal and personal care products. India’s booming herbal product industry is worth $4 billion and growing at a fast pace.

“We teach farmers the kind of crop they can grow according to the soil, the water and air in that area, what market exists for it and how he can increase his income by two or three times per acre,” says Arun Chandan, regional director at the National Medicinal Plants Board for North India. “For example, a herb locally called “sarpgandha” gives farmers eight to ten times the profit compared to wheat.”

Some farmers have already greened their fields with the board’s assistance, which provides planting material and training. Farmer Bipin Kumar in Magroo village says the lower Himalayas are particularly suitable for growing herbs. After starting plants such as aloe vera, stevia and lemongrass, he now plans to expand to other herbs.

“I still have a lot of vacant lands which I will cultivate because I am getting a good market, he said. “And I am learning that there are other herbs that I can grow.” He said the herbs survive even in relatively drier soils and do not get damaged by dense fog which is common in the hills.

Experts have shortlisted about 100 herbs that could be grown on the barren farmland where villagers gave up cultivating crops.

So far nearly 4,000 farmers have switched to growing herbs in seven North Indian states – in Himachal Pradesh, the number is 300.

“The ones who are successful are those who have entrepreneurship, who are willing to innovate. For example, they can plant short-term herbs in between other crops,” says Chandan. His organization also links farmers in remote villages with potential buyers to ensure they can market their crops.

Indian farmers switch to herb cultivation
Farmers learn the benefits of growing herbs instead of other crops. Pixabay

The havoc caused by monkeys is not restricted to rural areas – their numbers are growing in towns and even in the capital New Delhi, where they are infamous for snatching food and even mobile phones. In December, advisers gave lawmakers tips on dealing with monkeys often seen around parliament. The experts said to leave the animals alone and don’t make eye contact.

The monkey population has surged since India banned their export for biomedical research in 1978.

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The problem has been exacerbated because many in Hindu-majority India revere and feed the animals that they link to the Hindu deity Hanuman, who takes the form of a monkey.

But the brunt of the marauding monkeys is being felt in villages like Magroo in North India. Faced with growing losses, even older farmers here are now considering changing age-old farming patterns, although it’s hard to alter practices handed down generations.

Growing rice, corn and wheat is second nature to 79-year-old Charan Das, who has worked in the fields since he was a child. But after watching monkeys eat up more and more of his crop, he wants to shift to growing herbs.

“I will have to plant whatever the animals don’t eat,” he says ruefully. “At least then I will get some reward for my work.”

That is the message going out from workshops like the one in Magroo – there is a way to stay ahead of the monkeys. (VOA)