How This Startup Helps Smallholder Farmers Produce Higher Yields

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With agriculture playing a vital role in India’s economy, employing 54.6% of the workforce, many farmers rely on weather forecasts to make better farming decisions such as sowing crops on time.

Smallholder farmers are especially dependent on accurate weather information, as unexpected rainfall or any other extreme weather condition can lead to financial ruin. IIT Kanpur incubates an agritech start-up Weather Risk Management Services (WRMS) says it is well positioned to meet the needs of this segment.

Founded in 2004 by Sonu Agrawal, Anuj Kumbhatand Agarwal Ashish, the Gurugram-based company has been refining its solutions for the Indian agricultural sector over the past 18 years. He began by providing weather advisory services to insurance companies who would use it to develop crop insurance policies. Later, the startup also started sending weather alerts to farmers.

The real boost for WRMS came around 2015-16 with the increased use of smartphones and cheaper data plans that gave wider access to online information. However, he also realized that simply providing weather information was not enough for farmers.

WRMS executive interacting with a farmer

“We realized that farmers needed additional actionable information that extends beyond weather services to improve agricultural yield,” said Anuj Kumbhat, Co-Founder and CEO of WRMS in a conversation with Your story.

The startup focused on building its technology infrastructure, including Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) to collect relevant data, and also gathered other related information from various sources. Today he has more 10,000 AWS distributed throughout the country.

Direct contact with farmers

In 2019, WRMS began engaging directly with farmers by providing various input advisory services under the brand—SecuFarm. Building on its expertise in weather forecasting, the company has extended its services to areas such as soil moisture status, pest control, water management, and more.

“We can now tell farmers when is the right time to sow their seeds or how often they need to spray to ward off pests,” he adds.

WRMS offers these advisory services for a fee to farmers – an average of 1,000 to 2,000 rupees per season, depending on the crop as well as the growing area. It also offers to buy their products at the market price on the condition of monitoring its inputs. The startup aims to reduce the risks associated with agriculture.

“As long as farmers follow our advice, there is a guarantee of higher yields in the order of 15-20%,” says Anuj.

He further claims that WRMS’ advisory services also help farmers reduce farming costs by optimizing irrigation and using only the right agricultural inputs.

“We only suggest entries that fall within our best practices for packages and don’t believe in multiple options,” he explains.

The package includes timely interventions, irrigation needs, soil testing, nutrition management, etc. These are supported by machine learning and artificial intelligence models.

To date, WRMS has engaged with over 1 30,000 farmers in 10 states like Harayana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana, and has also partnered with the various state governments. It focuses on agricultural areas that produce two to three crops per year and are equipped with irrigation facilities. Most of these farmers have 2 to 10 acres of land.

The startup also works with peasant-producer organizations, agricultural companies, agricultural input companies, etc.

He earns through several sources of income, including advisory fees, subscription to weather data services, and billing from farm input companies.

Business started

WRMS was largely a seed business and over time received grants from organizations such as UPL, ILO (International Labor Organization), Ford Foundationand more recently, Silence assurance solutions.

The company achieved a turnover of $4.2 million for FY22 and says it’s profitable. He recorded a 60 percent revenue growth over the past two years.

However, the startup’s journey has not been without its challenges. It took time for the company to establish a relationship with the farmers and gain their trust. Giving an example, Anuj says they started working with 400 farmers in Haryana, and it took them three growing seasons to reach 4,000.

WRMS, which has a team of around 300 membershas also encountered difficulties in establishing commercial links for the agricultural products that it buys from farmers.

The agritech market in India is expected to touch $35 billion by 2025 according to research by Bain & Company, and has many players including CropIn, Fasal and DeHaat, to name a few. However, Anuj believes that the expertise WRMS has acquired over the years, particularly on weather data, gives it a solid footing in the market. He further adds that the startup’s services are result-oriented, especially when it comes to matching inbound and outbound links.

“We provide consulting services that are backed by a guarantee,” notes Anuj.

Over the years, WRMS has reached out to farmers indirectly and directly, and expects the relationship to grow stronger in the years to come as well. It has built up its own team of experts in areas such as metrology, agriculture, remote sensing, IT, field management, etc.

“Over the four years, we aim to reach over 1.6 million farmers, covering four million acres,” he concludes.

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