How this startup uses technology to help smallholder farmers increase yield
AgriDost provides technology-enabled advisory services and inputs to smallholder farmers. In this article, Tarun Arya talks about his and his co-founder Deependra Solanky's experience.
Crop advisory by AgriDost expert at farm
Tarun Arya, CEO of AgriDost, and his co-founder Deependra Solanky acknowledge that the agricultural sector is challenging to work in. “The agriculture sector is enormous,” Arya says. It can encompass everything from advisory – helping farmers better manage their crops through training, education, and resources such as soil testing, to inputs – the seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation that go into growing crops, and outputs – markets and processing opportunities for the crops that are grown. Within that, the challenges for each crop vary dramatically. Finally, as the founder of a startup, it is necessary to understand all the various aspects of the business. “When I worked with larger organizations, I had to manage some specific thing – not the whole business of the entire organization,” Arya says. “When Deependra and I started this startup, we had to manage everything.”
AgriDost Co-founders Tarun Arya and Deependra Solanky in farmer meeting
It’s enough to seem overwhelming, but Arya and Solanky have used their extensive work experience and deep understanding of rural India to grow AgriDost, which now works with 300+ villages and has reached 4,000+ farmers since inception to help them reduce the cost of inputs while increasing yield. Part of this success has been knowing how to focus. AgriDost started by working across advisory, input, and output, but eventually realize that these verticals were too different to do all three effectively. “For the past year, we provided technology and also the physical base advisory to farmers on some specific crop, and also provide input products such as fertilizers to farmers. Last financial year, our revenue was 4x that of the previous year,” Arya says.
AgriDost also chose to focus on specific crops, starting with rice paddies and expanding to 9 additional crops after honing their business model from there. These days, they also work with dairy farmers, after realizing how lucrative dairy farming can be. Arya credits Manush Labs with having this same type of focus when it came to its portfolio companies, by focusing on bringing together companies from the same industry.
“In Manush Labs, the program is really specific, so we found the outcome to be better compared to other types of accelerator or incubators,” he says.
Crop inspection by AgriDost Co-founder Tarun Arya
In addition to the sheer scale of the agriculture industry in India, AgriDost faces other challenges. Although many farmers do have smartphones, which allow them to access AgriDost’s technology platform providing satellite-captured data on weather advisories, moisture levels in the soil, and nitrogen levels, issues with either the smartphone quality or internet connectivity can affect how easily farmers can access this data. In addition, there is often mistrust from farmers about adopting new technology. For this, it is important for AgriDost to develop in-person relationships with farmers, but this is not always a scalable model. Currently, the company uses a micro-entrepreneur model, working with about 100 micro-entrepreneurs to visit farmers and provide advisory as well as inputs.
Despite these challenges, Arya understands that learning what does and does not work is simply part of the process of building a startup. “In many cases, someone starts a startup, and after 6 months, they stop working. It is very difficult to manage all the things internally and manage a team. There is no successful formula, and everything is not defined. So receptivity is required.” Coming from a background of working with rural farmers, Arya knew beforehand how challenging working in the agricultural sector would be. However, he also sees that the opportunity for technology to change the way things had been done for thousands of years held enormous potential for impact. “Impacting the income of the farmers - that motivated us to choose this business model and work for the farmer community.”
Field demonstration of AgriDost Paddy Nursery Kit