DeHaat: Tech use gives farmers a better return

DeHaat, touted as one of the fastest-growing startups in the Agri Tech sector, has been in the news a lot since it raised $115 million in a Series D round of Sofina, Lightrock and Temasek last year, bringing it closer to becoming a Unicorn came. This was followed by a push in exports and vertical output with the strategic acquisitions of YCook and Helicrofter delivering significant price benefits for farmers along with access to global markets.

One of the reasons behind the success of this agri-tech player – founded by alumni of IIT Delhi, IIT Kharagpur, IIM Ahmedabad and other top institutions – is the judicious use of technology to help farmers. “We are focused on solving problems of the Indian agricultural ecosystem through the use of technology, bringing the whole package of agricultural value chain offerings together under one umbrella. We have been able to build the largest full-stack agro-tech platform in India (beej se bazaar branch),” said Balaya Moharana, senior vice president of technology.

The agricultural sector in India is increasingly embracing technology. In addition to the mechanization of agriculture, IT penetration in the agricultural sector takes place at several levels. “The application of advanced IT can address most of the issues farmers face today: soil quality, need for advice and financing, supply chain gaps and sustainability,” says Moharana.

DeHaat, whose journey began in 2012, realized quite early on that Indian farmers needed a full-stack agri-tech platform that could bring together the full range of agricultural value chains under a unified umbrella. It first used its business model in Bihar and has since successfully scaled up to 11 states, building a network of more than 8,000 micro-entrepreneurs and serving 12 lakh+ farmers. The team has grown to more than 1,800 professionals, with expertise in growth strategy, supply chain management, technology and agricultural science.

Some of the key technology solutions DeHaat has built are around credit/finance, insurance bundling, and data-driven farming practices. Take agricultural financing, for example. In the absence of formal credit, farmers had to rely on informal sources of credit. It’s a huge problem, not an easy one to solve. So how does DeHaat change this?

“This goes back to when we started building a retail network on the ground and then digitized the entire operations by using point-of-sale terminals to capture all operational data. This has helped us build a scoring mechanism that provides accurate profile parameters to make the nationwide credit system work – in terms of funding the right set of services and resources rather than providing money directly to the farmer,” says Moharana.

Data-driven agriculture has not yet taken off in India. “So we identify the right innovation in the sector by using a platform-driven approach. Rather than having everything in-house, we invite third parties, experts, small startups, etc. to do a commendable job and use the offering that is the most scalable and affordable,” he says. “The focus is on creating an open platform to provide farmers with the best personalized advice. We help farmers access multiple data sources based on their inputs to predict stress and provide them with solutions to combat stress.”

Because farming has its risks, affordable insurance plans can make a big difference to the farmer, Moharana says. “While insurance schemes are mandatory for farmers under government regulations, very few farmers are aware of this and can enroll themselves to reap the benefits. We realized that a better way to design an insurance product for farmers is to bundle it with the inputs he buys.”

In short, by providing farmers with technology-based tools, they have been able to predict weather patterns more accurately, adopt more sustainable irrigation practices, reduce waste, and in turn enjoy better yields and higher incomes, he adds.

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