September 10, 2020
For a predominantly agrarian economy like ours, farmers are the backbone of our economic constitution. About 70% of the country’s population is engaged in agricultural activities, with 120 crore population principally depending on it for survival. Unfortunately enough, our food growers aren’t the ones getting the kind of focus they deserve. About 12.5 crore small and marginal Indian farmers have little or no access to financial products. Most farmers are unaware of benefits like crop loans, livestock loans, and insurance. To keep the farming business going, they end up taking loans from local money lenders at exorbitant rates of interest, resulting in debt traps and the consequent loss of land and property. Banks are risk-averse to lending to the farmers due to the shooting NPAs (Non-Performing Asset) in the segment. The agriculture credit market in India stands at USD 200 Bn and despite it being a priority sector, the GNPA (Gross Non-Performing Asset) from the agriculture sector and allied activities in Public Sector Banks stood at Rs 1.04 lakh crore at the end of July 2019 as against a total credit of Rs 9.42 lakh crore. Hence, the proportion of GNPA to total credit is around 11 percent. This has forced banks/insurance companies to rethink their business model and reduce their overall credit facilitation to agriculture and allied sectors, preventing the financial growth of small and marginal farmers. The Assam-based startup, Farmeasy Technologies Pvt. Ltd may come as a ray of hope for the Indian farmers with its digital platform that creates and records the creditworthiness of the farmers and allots scorecards against them for easy reference for the financial institutions.
Farmeasy Technologies Pvt. Ltd provides a digital creditworthiness scorecard under its brand name Farm Infinity (farm∞) to each farmer registered on its platform, based on its proprietary algorithm that considers over 80+ individual parameters like basic KYC, total cultivable farmland, GPS coordinates of the farmland, soil health data, livestock, crop cultivated, availability of irrigation facilities, farm equipment, years of experience, number of household members for each farmer, etc., and considers over 600 data-sets and 10 Mn data from Government database. The financial institutions can use these scorecards to keep a check on the live profiles of the farmers, along with tracking the various parameters for better decision-making in terms of awarding loans and providing insurance products. Banks, MFIs (Micro Finance Institutions), NBFCs (Non-Banking Financial Corporation), and Insurance companies can use these scorecards to determine the creditworthiness of farmers and sanction them various financial insurance products/services, like crop and livestock insurance, farm loans, KCCs (Kisan Credit Card), etc. Apart from steam-rolling hassles for the Indian farmers in obtaining loans, Farm Infinity’s proprietary algorithm based creditworthiness and risk assessment scorecard will also help reduce the NPAs of the financial institutions. It is similar to that of CIBIL (Credit Information Bureau (India) Limited) scorecard, used for determining the creditworthiness of employed and self-employed individuals. The startup focuses on digitizing and automating the loan cycle and insurance workflows of the Financial Institutions.
In 2012, Gunajit Brahma and a group of IIM Indore alumni started a venture by the name Jeev Anksh Eco-Products Pvt. Ltd. Jeev Anksh is a social venture dealing with providing market linkages, contract farming with buyback assurance to small and marginal organic farmers and their farm produce. It was while working for the venture that they got familiarized with motley farmers and the variegated problems plaguing the Indian agricultural sector. They noticed how the farmers had to struggle in securing monetary aid from the financial institutions. A further probe brought them to terms with the financial institutions declining granting loans due to inadequate documents for verification and the farmers’ rather questionable capacity to pay back the loan amount. That was the trigger point for Gunajit Brahma and his IIM Indore batchmate, Alok Kumar Ekka, to start Farmeasy Technologies. Gunajit’s experience of working in the agricultural sector and Alok’s tryst with the banking sector proved to be an ideal combination for a fintech startup addressing the agricultural sector. Apart from the founders, the company is lent the essential experience and technical knowhow with founding members like Kaustav Gayon – IIT Kharagpur alumnus, and Ram Munda – NIT Durgapur alumnus. Besides, a retired banker at the Indian Overseas Bank, Samir Baruah, has joined the team as an Advisor. The company is also in discussion to pull a retired IAS officer into the Advisory Board.
Farm Infinity, with its user-friendly mobile platform, enables farmers from even the remotest areas to register themselves just with a finger tap, dismantling physical restrictions and commuting challenges. Asked about the efficacy of the platform in a country where a good number of farmers are illiterate and digitally constrained, Gunajit informs about introducing a speech recognition feature to abate the problem in the future.
“Since the majority of the Indian farmers do not have any know-how of running a mobile application in the English language we are also working on introducing a voice-driven form or speech-to-text feature to our application so that illiteracy can no longer be a barrier for them,” says Gunajit Brahma. Interestingly, the idea for integrating a speech-to-text feature was suggested by the officials from Microsoft who had visited The Nest earlier this year.
The startup is also planning to develop a vernacular version of the application. It will be available in all 18 recognized Indian languages, easily accessible to the farmers of different states. Besides, the company will tie up with Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) that will play a substantial role in terms of encouraging the farmers to get onboard on the platform. Initially, the mobile application will be rolled out for the FPOs/FPCs and agribusinesses alone and will be let open for individual farmers subsequently.
The startup would charge a subscription fee from the financial institutions for assigning and maintaining exclusive web-based dashboards on the platform with updated information and farmer scorecards. Conversely, it plans to pay a finder’s fee to the FPOs and FPCs for every farmer onboarded from their networks.
While the Android application will be officially launched and made available on Google’s Play Store soon, the basic website is live now.
As the government-initiated programs like BIRAC-Sparsh try to attract agri-tech startups to introduce new-age innovations in agriculture and aid the Indian farmers to do away with the primitive method of weather and soil dependent cultivation, Farmeasy Technologies holds the potential to offer a sound solution to the financial assistance deprivation faced by farmers that have frequently ensued in heart-wrenching cases of suicides in the farmer community. And now that Covid-19 has pushed digitization from being an add-on to a need, ventures like this are going to grab the interest of the agricultural stakeholders and the investors, alike.
A startup from Assam is trying to uplift the conditions of the farmers in North East India by offering them a price 1.2 times more than the market for the produce. Read to know more.