Ruchit Garg is a techie who spent at least 11 years in the US, working for tech giant Microsoft. However, his “lower-middle-class roots", as he puts it, took him back to Chandigarh. Garg started building a seed-to-market start-up, called Harvesting Farming Network (HFN), two years ago. Unlike many agri-tech platforms that focused on the digitisation of the agrarian economy, Garg took a step backwards.
He moved across the length and breadth of the country, met ginger farmers from Meghalaya, apple producers of Kashmir and brought together a network of 24 lakh growers. He then began connecting farmers with the buyers directly using WhatsApp, in a mission to remove not only the inefficacies present in the Indian agriculture industry, but also to help the farmers increase their income. Within 12 months of starting this initiative, over $300 million worth of crops were listed through this WhatsApp collaboration.
“My grandfather was a farmer and I had set out to help address the challenges our crop growers face by the application of modern technology, build a network of the growers, help them produce non-toxic, efficient production with expert inputs, sell the crops at a reasonable price and connect them directly with buyers,” Garg told BusinessToday.In.
It took Garg 2 years to develop an agriculture-focused super app, HFN (Harvesting Farmers Network) Kisan app where crops worth $24 million are already listed for purchases. Not just that, the veteran techie is also partnering with one of the biggest commercial banks in India to help finance the farmers, avail credit facilities and provide agricultural expertise in order to remove the inefficacies present in the process.
The agriculture sector is an integral part of India’s economy, in which 120 million small farmer families are direct stakeholders, said Garg, adding that it needs a fillip and that's where technology can come to the rescue. “The penetration of smartphones, availability of cheap data beyond Tier 1 towns and metros is an important lever, which will push this industry forward in next two decades," he said.
“When we worked together with the farmers, we found various impediments, including the sourcing of raw materials -- seeds, pesticides, fertilisers, non-availability of scientific advice, loans, and, most importantly, prices to be quoted by the growers. We try and solve some of these problems with our HFN Kisan app and hence it is a super-app in the agri-tech space,” Garg said.
Besides, the HFN Kisan app does not charge commissions from farmers for sales. “We have pretty much adopted an omni-channel approach by setting up 17,000 physical Kisan centres across India to reach out to growers who aren’t tech-savvy. These centres will be farmer-owned and operated, with training, marketing expertise provided by us in states like J&K, Karnataka, Orissa, Punjab, Meghalaya, etc. We will provide more value-added services over time to increase their incomes. This is specially focused on generating employment to thousands of agricultural graduates in India, who can blend technology with agriculture and take the industry forward,” the HFN founder said.
Garg also sees an enormous opportunity in the financial services offerings for framers by helping agriculturists connect with lenders through the HFN app’s in-built features, which also serves this under-penetrated market and removes the concerns of credit returns.
"Over time, we will also be able to negotiate better interest rates, while working with the lenders. The app supports six languages English, Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Bengali & Kannada. HFN Kisan mobile app supports farmers involved in the fishery, poultry, livestock and horticulture crops,” he added.
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