India was witness to a dramatic increase in prices of agricultural commodities in the past decade. However, hardly has there been any significant increase in the selling prices that farmers offer. A major share of the profit goes to middlemen who connect farmers with traders. Often, the difference of margin between a farmer and trader is in the range of 500-600 per cent.
Bengaluru-based start-up named Bhoomee aims to change this scene and has come up with a solution that helps farmers connect with traders and vice-versa through their online portal and call centre services.
The basic aim of this start-up is to create awareness among farmers regarding agricultural commodities prices at various markets, so that the farmers can negotiate and can get better prices than what they are getting right now. It also aims to provide more choices to the farmers.
The web portal offers six services, including market prices, postings, listing, business intelligence, problems and solutions and weather. Farmers and traders can utilize postings section on the portal to post their products to be sold and bought, respectively, just like on a buy and sell portal like OLX. Listing is a Justdial-like platform where one can find contact details and other details of a farmer or a trader.
For instance, a farmer, who harvests ragi in Mysuru, could be easily connected to a trader coming from Bengaluru. Often, the trader hesitates to give market price to the farmer since the latter does not do grading and packing. So, usually the farmer ends up accepting the traders demand.
In addition, the prices of the same crop vary depending upon the variety and market. However, the farmer would not be necessarily aware of this. In such cases, a farmer can directly call the call centre and get to know the prices. This has improved the negotiating abilities of farmers.
Bhoomee, founded by Bengaluru entrepreneur Raghunandan, started its services in March, 2013 and has seen more than 145,000 farmers subscribing to it. Currently, Bhoomee engages with farmers only in certain districts in Karnataka, including Mysuru, Mandya, Ramanagara, Tumkur, Chitradurga, Davengere, Bellari and Dharwad. The company plans to expand its services to other south Indian states within six months and across India within a year.
According to Raghunandan, the initial plan was just a web portal. However, equipping farmers with internet and a smartphone or a laptop proved to be a challenge. It was then that the whole concept to enable the portal with a call centre came into being where people can be given information in their local language from a toll-free number.
Government organizations like Krishi Marata Vahini also provide similar service. However, these usually offer market prices and there are no call center services enabled, claims Raghunandan. Unlike government ones that are mostly a state-oriented platform, Bhoomee tries to connect the entire country.
Apart from this Reuters Market Light and Intuit Fasal are the other players offering similar services.
Unlike other SMS-based services, a mere phone call to a toll-free number is enough to access information from Bhoomee regarding commodity demands and prices across the various mandis.
Bhoomee also provides option for the farmers to access logistic providers such as lorry drivers.
The subscription fee ranges from Rs 60- 120 per month for farmers and varies with different services.
Bhoomee was started by Bengaluru-based entrepreneur Raghunandan, who has invested nearly Rs 3 crore until now and plans to break even in 2016. By June, they are even planning to raise funds from an HNI or a VC. Bhoomee is expected to make a revenue of Rs 2 crore before the end of this quarter.
According to Raghunandan, the main challenge initially was to convince the farmers that the mechanism would work on a real-time basis. However, now with the help of 50 employees, apart from about 100 commission agents, their efforts are gaining significant responses from both farmers and traders.
Bhoomee gets at least 30 calls a day, says Raghunandan.
Apart from solving farmers’ issues, he claims that his start-up is also addressing other social causes like food security and minimizing food wastage.
For example, often, while in one part of the country there might be a surplus production, the other side might face a scarcity and as a result, prices might shoot high. Usually farmers do not transport their produce far off due to fear of expense they incur. This often results in huge quantity of the produce getting rotten and wasted.