Published: 04th January 2018
Kisan Network is putting the power of purchase back in the hands of the farmer
Princeton dropout, AP AgTech winner, featured in the Forbes 30 under 30 list — all these are pale in comparison to Aditya Agarwalla's mission, which is to help farmers get their due in our country
One of the most exhaustive surveys conducted by the National Sample Survey of India is the Situation Assessment Survey Of Agricultural Households (2013). It is till date quoted in articles, reports and research papers, though it's almost half a decade old. And the reason for this? It offers one of the most definitive insights into the socio-economic characteristics of agricultural households and in doing so, it reveals their consumer expenditure, crop insurance, indebtedness and awareness of Minimum Support Price (MSP), and it also quantifies what we already know — the abject despair that shrouds agriculture and the so-called ann daata (the giver of grains, aka, farmers).
Agarwalla was born and brought up in Delhi and completed his schooling in the same city. Agarwalla's father has worked in the agriculture sector for the longest time and has been an integral part of the Kisan Network
An average farm household makes less than Rs 6,500 a month and this is after earning an income from non-farming business, livestock and more. 42% owe money to the bank and 26% to moneylenders — such statistics present a very dismal and grey picture of farmers, who are often short-changed and don't get their due for the labour they put in. And while agritechs may serve as a ray of hope to solve at least some, if not all of these issues, there is one particular start-up, Kisan Network, that not only won the Pitch Competition at the AP AgTech Summit 2017 last November, but more recently, its founder, Aditya Agarwalla, featured in the Forbes 30 under 30 list, that is a ray of hope in the otherwise dark future of farmers.
Writing on the wall: An advertisement of Kisan Network in one of the villages
"Farmers in India are treated merely as producers, who approach the local buyers to sell their produce and think that what they get is what they deserve. We, through Kisan Network, want to treat farmers as businessmen and tell them that they have the choice of picking from several potential markets to sell their produce," says the entrepreneur, passionately. Kisan Network, co-founded by Agarwalla's father Sanjay Agarwalla, aims to eliminate the middleman and connect farmers directly to institutional buyers through their app and toll-free number, and they don't stop at that. They even source, sort, grade, pack, dispatch and deliver the farmers’ produce to the buyer. What an idea, we say!
While currently, farmers can only sell staples like potatoes and onions, Kisan Network wants to expand its inventory to include more staples, exotic crops and fruits too.
In his company
This idea was actually Delhi-based Agarwalla's thesis project when he was at Princeton, which he joined in 2012. And as the research of the app required him to visit farms and conduct surveys back in India, he was more and more convinced about his project. He opted for the Ivy League college's Leave Of Absence policy, which allows students to take a gap year, "no questions asked". Within the year, he was incubated by Y Combinator, an incubator which provides seed funding for start-ups and became a Thiel Fellow, and though it wasn't planned this way, he never did return to college. "The decision made it itself for me. I had investors and a team. It was no longer a start-up; it became a full-blown company," says Agarwalla, who started Kisan Network with his father.
Here was a problem that was acute and that everybody knew about and we had a potential solution
Aditya Agarwalla, founder, Kisan Network
Pick a side
The Kisan Network app can be accessed through smartphones as cheap as `5,000. It operates even on 2G and supports multiple languages, which combats the worry of expenses on farmers, weak network in rural areas and comprehension of the app, all at once. The app itself is as basic as it gets; it is made keeping farmers and their limited exposure to technology in mind and it is its simplicity that makes it unique. "In India, anything new has to be unique and something that can be replicated across the country," says Agarwalla. Pointing out that agritech, in a country where agriculture has been a traditional way of life for many, is still at a nascent stage, he says, "It is up to us to figure out efficient businesses in this space." And summits like the AP AgTech do their bit for agritech start-ups. "The summit was a wonderful initiative," he exclaims, attributing the fact to the composition of the audience, which not only comprised of traditional agriculture companies, but also start-ups and farmers. "Of course, Chandrababu Naidu was involved and Bill Gates' presence was the icing on the cake," he says.
Farmers can simply call their toll-free number 180030002422 to sell their produce to buyers across the country. And the buyers too can drop them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy from farmers, on their platform
Kisan Network is currently a team of 30, headquartered in Gurugram, with 20 of its members on the field, constantly assisting both farmers and buyers. And while they have made their presence felt in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, they are in their early stages in Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. One can only hope that soon, agritechs like these not only help farmers regain their rightful income, stature and dignity in India, but also remind us about the slogan that late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri made so famous — Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.