To use a clichéd word, value. Once again, whether a farmer will pay or not will depend on his perceived value. Companies which serve this segment will have to understand this clearly to make any kind of impact. Value cannot be vague, generic and superficial. It has to be demonstrable and customized; this is particularly true for crop advisory services for the farm. Most importantly, for rural folks like their urban counterparts, trust is supreme. They will buy only from those whom they trust and would be willing to pay more. Arguably, this quality is amplified in this sector.
Have you ever visited a doctor in rural parts of the country? Along with the prescription (read advice) he also doles out medicines. That’s value! Also, it’s customized advice. This analogy works well for rural advisory services in agriculture. When I started this journey, the situation was a lot more difficult, due to higher telecom costs and sparse network. Undeniably, it has eased over the years but then again due to internet, a lot of services which fetched a price earlier have now become free and impacted revenue models of companies. Interestingly, providing free service does not guarantee wide usage. A case in point is the Government’s Kisan app which is free but hasn’t seen to have a very high level of traction so far.
Weather / market related information provided were undoubtedly very useful but had few takers when it was introduced as a paid service in early 2007. Again, the perception was that it was a generic service and not specific to any farmer, so why should one pay for it separately? Gradually, these services changed shape and form and were customized for specific farmers based on their land holding which elicited much interest. This idea fetched @120 rupees from one farmer for one crop season. It worked well for ~ 4 years and then the droughts of 2012 – 2013 hit hard our business. The model was adversely impacted by the downturn in general of the agriculture economy.
Let’s look at yet another analogy. During recessions, the management often advise employees to do an MBA with a promise that on completion they “may” be promoted. But please understand this: the employee is facing an immediate crisis (of survival) and is not really interested what will happen after 2 – 3 years. Similarly, after the drought which led to thousands of suicides, farmers grew desperate and started to insist on more direct benefits like access to market, and faster realisation of return from sale of farm produce.
The diktat was clear – why don’t you buy directly from us and sell to the market? A veritable proposition, but a rather bold idea for the tech companies which so far had not played a direct role in the supply chain. Ekgaon on its part took two years to analyse the market and decide on viability. Today, I am happy to say that we sell more than 190 products, purchasing directly from the farmer. They are now willing to pay annual membership fee to join the network and access services and be part of the ecosystem. On a lighter vein and to use a popular jargon, Ekgaon has the first right of refusal! The journey from an agri-tech company to a supply chain intermediary aggregator took four years; and, it was a transformative experience. This new model has worked well for 4 years now.