WhatsApp-like App Does the Ground Work for Farmers
Bengaluru: Before the start of the next crop planting season, third generation farmer Krishna Balegayi — who has been farming for 25 years — is sure to take the help of an Android app to better his yield.
Bengaluru-based startup Nubesol technologies has created a WhatsApp-like messaging app through which farmers can chat with eminent agricultural scientists, and discuss the factors contributing to poor yield. “Farmers who have problems typing or explaining their requirement in text can record their voice and send it as a query. Just like WhatsApp,” said Suraj Dixit, Founder, Nubesol Technologies.
In November 2016, Balegayi attended the annual expo for agricultu- ral technologies in Shimoga, Karnataka, where he discovered the app ‘KrishiSuchak’. Little did he know that the free app, which he half-heartedly downloaded, would save his dying areca nut crop.
A day after he downloaded the app, Balegayi sent a picture of his ‘Areca nut’ plant accompanied by a lone “?”. The image was that of leaves drying out from the edges of the plant. The unschooled farmer, unable to text, faced problems articulating his query.
However, the picture was sufficient for Bengaluru-based agronomist Yekkeli to deduce and diagnose it as a ‘root rot’. “The one-yearold Areca nut had sustained the problem for three months when I received the message,” Yekkeli, lead Agro-scientist said. Yekkeli telephoned Balegayi and advised him to pluck a plant and check for insects at the root level. The farmer was ta- ken aback at the event of a stranger advising him on farming. Sceptical about trusting anyone over the phone Balegayi hung up instantly after promising to do so. An hour went by waiting for a reply before the phone finally buzzed. “It was a picture of the farmer holding an uprooted plant with an insect in its root,” said Suneel Reddy, Executive Manager, adding, “It was gratifying to note that our scientists were able to identify a problem sitting in a remote location. This incident helped gain Balegayi’s trust.” Steered to find a remedy for the root rot, Balegayi kept in touch with the team through the app. The startup helped resolve the issue. The plant, on the verge of being deemed unfit, was revived. “Now, he can expect areca nut yield in the next 2 years,” Reddy said. In addition to crop and pest consulting, the android app’s start featu- re ‘Remote sensing technology’ (RST) helps farmers identify weak areas in the land and increase the yield. “You can mark the desired land area on google maps, and gain information about how good the crop and yield would be,” Dixit said. Remote Sensing highlights the less nutritious part of the land in red and the rest in green. The feature, designed using mathematical algorithms, helps assess the health of the plant. The RST — a paid service available at a cost of ₹ 250 per annum — has gained a lot of traction in the past four months, Dixit said. KrishiShuchak has amassed a user base of about 5,000 farmers and continues to grow by the day. With at least 100 queries per day, the centres are more active than government-run extension centres.
Every request received through the app is analysed using a bot which sifts through the messages. The startup has a four-member response team answering a host of questions from what crops to grow to what’s the weather like, from educational assistance to cost of produce.
The app also provides ‘soil testing’ facilities which presents results on 12 different parameters — pH, Iron, Zn, etc — highlighting the balance of nutrients in the soil. Farmers can get the soil test done by couriering the soil samples of the land. The agro-startup has tested about 1,000 samples since its inception.
Asked about the ease of use of technology with farmers, Dixit said: “Even we were surprised to see farmers use mobile technology with such fluency. It’s a common myth that farmers can’t adopt technology.” Farmers are ready to integrate technologies as long as it is simple and works well for them, he added.