CropData is a data-driven platform that provides an ecosystem with a cluster of services for the agriculture supply chain, aggregating aggregators, with a primary focus on the first-mile interface. The platform’s agriculture e-marketplace allows farmers to connect directly with buyers with the primary focus on neutrality. This aids in impacting the lives of the small and marginal farmers, increasing their income and managing their core risks, by providing access to customised knowledge, fair markets, and essential services. The company’s Managing Director Sachin Suri tells us more about the initiatives. Excerpts:
DQ: How can technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain and cloud help improve agriculture, especially small farmers in India?
Sachin Suri: Every farmland in the country is different from the other. With the help of our data analysis, we have found that even adjoining farms can have significant variations in farm health parameters. In addition to environmental challenges such as drought, government schemes such as insurance, subsidies, and even minimum support prices being uniform for farmers across the nation pose great challenges for them. CropData’s mission is to help the smallest farmer in the remotest part of India make a viable living.
Using the capabilities of Microsoft Azure, we have built a platform to empower farmers in India. The platform is designed to solve some of the pressing challenges faced by farmers of the country with the help of cloud, AI and machine learning algorithms, and blockchain technologies.
Once we onboard a farmer on the platform, we perform several diagnostics on the farm. These include crop health assessment with weather correlations, aerial imagery, analysis on the kind of seeds that are planted, how they are planted, the stress levels, and much more. This is called the Dr. Krishi module. After the completion of our on-ground diagnostics, our machine learning algorithms take over, which help us understand the health of the farm and the expected yield and quality.
It also helps us club together farms that are similar in terms of their risks, crops, quality, and other health parameters. This is one of our biggest discoveries. There are several farms which are not adjacent to each other, but they demonstrate the same parameters.
By clubbing small farmers with large farmers, we provide these small farmers the economies of scale and fair price that a large farmer would get. This also helps us provide farmers access to institutional credit at favourable rates. We bundle farms by their risk profile and assign them a credit rating, which helps financial institutions assign loans with confidence.
DQ: How has Microsoft helped the company?
Sachin Suri: Microsoft has provided immense support and hand-holding in successfully deploying the right solution for the farmers of India to dream big. In the beginning, we were a part of the Microsoft for Agritech Startups programme. Our strong engagement has resulted in moving all of our platforms and services to Azure. We are also working closely with Microsoft’s engineering teams to build our products, and incorporate some of the AI work that has been done on FarmBeats into our workflows during the diagnostics process.
Considering the current COVID-19 situation, we had to rethink about training people on the ground and Microsoft Community Training (MCT, erstwhile Project Sangam) came as a godsend. All our training for employees is now happening online via MCT. A major benefit is that they can go through the training videos on their own, when they want to, and have the option to revisit any video.
We release our videos on the platform, unlike sharing it over messaging apps or email, where we know they are secure, and can’t be misused. Another advantage is that we are able to roll out videos to employees based on their position and role in the company, so the learning module is customised for them. Working with Microsoft has felt like working with a partner, and it has been an incredible journey.
DQ: Talking about platforms, is CropData also working towards creating e-marketplace?
Sachin Suri: Till now, farmers in India had to wait till their crops were harvested to get a sense of the income they would make or they could go for advance trading on an individual basis that relies mostly on guesswork. We have converted that into a scientific trade to help farmers get better price on advance trading.
With our technology, we connect farmers to bulk buyers on our e-marketplace, where their harvest is hedged very early in the crop cycle according to the predicted quality and yield from their farm. This gives farmers an early visibility into their income and ensures that they have the incentive to put in all the effort that goes into a crop cycle.
This is where Agriota, the e-marketplace that we have created, comes in. This e-marketplace built on Microsoft Azure connects all stakeholders with a focus on providing utmost transparency with the use of blockchain. We have partnered with UAE’s Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) for the platform. It’s an open auction process where we represent the farmers and all that a farmer has to do is work on his field diligently to get the best possible yield and quality.
DQ: Could you elaborate more on the Agriota e-marketplace?
Sachin Suri: The Agriota e-marketplace is a blockchain-based, advanced agricultural commodities marketplace platform with a range of services for contract, bid and money management, entity management, accounting, billing, reconciliation, analytics, fraud, risk and regulatory compliance management, etc. It is a multi-tier escrow banking system for money management and connects bulk buyers directly with farmers’ ecosystem, while providing neutrality, traceability and trust.
We now have a footprint in 30 districts across eight states, with over 50,000 farmers already on the marketplace. We are ramping up our presence despite the current restrictions due to COVID-19 by using a prioritisation algorithm that we have created. We have launched Agriota with 18 commodities, and each commodity can have anywhere between 5 and 10 varieties.
Our data platform, called Geo-Spatial Tile Management, will continue to aggregate more data to provide insights at an even more granular level. Currently, we provide analytics up to the village level and soon our buyers will be able to zoom all the way up to farm-level data. Overall, we aim to have 150,000 farmers on the marketplace in the first year and touch over five million farmers in five years. This, we estimate, will translate into a gross merchandise value of transactions of USD 250 million in the first year and USD 8.5 billion in five years.