What­sApp-like App Does the Ground Work for Farm­ers

The Economic Times - - Disruption: Startups & Tech - Nilesh.Christo­pher @times­group.com

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.

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