Gramophone to integrate finance in their workflows with a BNPL approach
We recently caught up with the Nishant Mahatre, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Gramophone, a data-driven full-stack technology platform that makes farming intelligent and empowers farmers to double their income. They work with farmers right from the pre-sowing stage to selling their crops, we help them produce more crops in scientific ways. In this interview Mr. Mahatre has detailed out the tech behind the agri-tech also as how Gramophone has blended emerging technology in the service offering to solve with the real world challenges of farmers of Bharat.
- What do you think are the factors that led to the evolution of technology in the Agri space today?
Agriculture is one of the last bastions to adopt technology. Many of the current technology trends (digitization, use of satellite data, AI, etc.) have been well established in other domains (such as banking, or e-commerce). Over a period, the under-served Agriculture domain also got attention of the techies. Cost of AI and cloud computing have been going down over a period of time. Ten years back, cloud costs would have been probably 7-10X more expensive than today. With lower costs, exploring new applications became easier. This sector has caught the attention of talent in recent years; IIT and IIM graduates are happily jumping into Agriculture today, which was unfathomable, by and large, 10 years back. With better talent coming into the picture, new ideas are being explored; grassroots level innovation is happening; investors are backing these entrepreneurial efforts.
On the user side, thanks to massive reduction in data costs, there has been a proliferation of smartphones. Adoption of mobile internet has been a major factor in getting technology to the farmer. With 300mn+ smartphone users in the rural areas, there is a major wave of new-age-agripreneurs. Those who used whatsapp for entertainment are now using apps (such as Gramophone) for agronomy advice, or to buy inputs, or to sell their produce.
- Has there been an increase in the tech adoption among the farmers lately? If yes, in what areas are you witnessing the increase and where do you see that going in future from your perspective?
Yes, there has certainly been an increase in usage of mobile applications by farmer for agronomy advice. He used to call us for advice earlier; now, increasingly, he browses through different parts of the mobile application, sees videos and self-addresses a large part of his queries. Overall, leveraging of mobile applications for farming related decisions (including, but not limited to) such as deciding which nearby mandi to take the material to, or when to take it, or deciding when to sow – basis rain prediction – etc. is going up. Farmers have started uploading their stocks availability and transacting online on digital platforms; we expect a 3X growth in the % of farmers doing these digital transactions on our platform.
- What is the role of SaaS in the agri industry? We notice that off late farmers are willing to pay a premium for the SaaS products, what is it that Gramophone offers for the premiums they pay and how are the farmers benefitting from it?
SaaS solution in Agriculture involves personalized agronomy advice for every farm on:
- Soil and plant nutrition
- Seed selection
- Pest and disease management
- Water management
- Weed and canopy management
Essentially, farmers get access to an “expert”, capitalizing on AI and analytical tools to give timely advice on everything from crop rotation to seed optimization. This results in a 20-30% drop in the cost of operation, like less water wastage, optimal use of inputs, etc. Combined with market linkage, farmers have seen an overall 50-60% increase in their income. These are tangible economic benefits which the farmer sees, and hence, is happy to pay a price for these “premium” offerings from Gramophone
- How were you able to come up with the products that you offer now? Give us a brief on what went through in designing them?
It was a gradual process of digitization. In the beginning, we simply had a helpline wherein farmers would call and seek help. Over a period, we digitized the advisor, now the farmer uses mobile application and self-help modules to resolve his queries and concerns. As the trust factor improved, our brand became stronger. And we started incorporating multiple modules. Our Omni-channel commerce model took time to develop and a lot of iterations. We would launch small modules, take feedback from users, fine-tune and then move on. Today, our users can use digital medium to seek advice, or buy inputs or sell their produce.
They have multiple options to buy too – they can use the app, or go to nearest store (as recommended by the app), ask our Village Representatives at the last mile, or call our helpline. All these channels are digitized and the farmer gets the same, consistent experience across all channels. In a way, operational support led to the adoption of technology. Now we are giving a comprehensive farm management solution to the farmer. And farmers are also willing to pay for these premium services.
- Give us a few use cases of your products on ground. How are you planning on improving your services?
One typical use case on the input side is, a farmer hears about a specific kind of a crop disease affecting his friend’s farm. He reaches out to us through the app, sees commentary on recent issues in his neighborhood, understands the crop protection materials he needs to buy and spray. Then, he chooses whether he wants to buy online or go to the nearest store (as he can see from the app). Similarly, on the output side, the farmer can see market trends of his produce. He easily gets answers to – What are the running prices, how much stocks are coming to the mandi every day? He can list his stocks on the platform as well as execute trade, sitting at home.
The next set of solutions we are working on are around embedding credit, optimizing the logistics (especially in consolidating small ticket supplies), and better visibility of markets far away from the farm.
- How has Gramophone used emerging technology so far? What is the role of tech in your growth trajectory?
At Gramophone, we collect the data of the farm, including but not limited to area, size, location, soil, cropping patterns, soil quality and harvesting quantity & quality. We have created a proprietary database around types of crops, best practices, pest/disease management, market prices, and so on. We are leveraging data science to bring all this together, and generating simple-to-follow action points for the farmers, to manage their farms better. Apart from core farming issues, we have also looked at areas such as logistics. Thanks to our algorithms, we have been able to optimize the distribution of goods extremely well. Farmers get door-step-service and we are able to keep our costs low.
Also, since we have a lot of data on production trends and quality of production in different areas (apart from the market data on supply/price/etc.) we are able to predict well, in terms of where the supply would come next. This is extremely helpful to our customers who are looking for a reliable supply chain. This also helps the farmers get a better sense of what their expected income would be. Technology has always been at the core of our business; we simply cannot scale without the solutions described above.
- What are your future plans for Gramophone? What kinds of products can we expect in days to come?
We are integrating finance in our workflow – including embedding of credit (or BNPL – “buy now, pay later” options). We are looking to optimize the logistics costs further (especially in consolidating small ticket supplies, post-harvest). We will be integrating our output business with markets far away from the farm.