Bengaluru: It began as a conversation between two friends, David and Edvin Varghese in Devanahalli, a small village on the outskirts of Bengaluru. David, who uses just his first name, wanted to make a point about farmers’ empowerment before he left for Australia in 2014. “Nobody does anything for farmers. Only you can do this, Edvin,” he told Varghese. His words became the push Varghese needed to move further in a direction he had already set out on.
Over the course of the months that followed, Varghese and his former colleague at Oracle Corp., Murthy Gurunathan, toyed with many ideas they thought could help farmers.
“Farmers do not have information on where to sell, how to sell. The digital revolution has bypassed them,” says Varghese, who co-founded Farmobi Technologies Pvt. Ltd with Gurunathan, and launched Mandi Trades, the company’s first app.
Any farmer can register himself on the Mandi Trades app, enter details of the produce he wants to sell, location and price, which is then uploaded on the cloud. “It’s a marketplace, just like Flipkart,” Varghese says.
They developed and improved newer versions of the app through another company Varghese co-founded, Appface Technologies Pvt. Ltd, with his wife Seena Edvin.
Appface Technologies, which was founded in December 2011, is an app development and services company serving multiple clients while Farmobi Technologies is focused on agriculture. Farmobi Technologies was founded in September 2014.
Two years on, Mandi Trades has at least 30,000 users across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as well as in the North-East, Odisha, West Bengal and eastern Uttar Pradesh. Farmers now sell vegetables, pulses, fruit and flowers, and other agricultural produce on the platform.
Mandi Trades has been nominated for the Digital Empowerment Foundation’s mBillionth awards 2016 in the agriculture category.
Varghese and Gurunathan quit their jobs in Oracle and under the mentorship of Anant Pandit, a former director of Omnesys Technologies Pvt. Ltd (later acquired by Thomson Reuters), and Dinesh Shetty, an agricultural entrepreneur and managing director of Ponalab Biogrowth Pvt. Ltd, set out to develop a model for Farmobi Technologies which included empowering farmers and providing digital literacy to at least one person in a village to help others leverage technology.
One direct effect of Mandi Trades has been the elimination of the middlemen, who used to take away a sizeable chunk of farmers’ income. With the app, the farmer can reach potential buyers directly. Once a buyer selects the produce he wants to buy, he receives information on the seller’s location, contact details and even a route map to the place.
Varghese is clear that Farmobi Technologies will not charge the farmer for uploading the information. The team chooses to make money through a combination of advertising and sales of seeds and data.
“If a ketchup company wants to set up a facility, we will be able to provide them information on the highest tomato growing regions, the markets and prices. This would save time and effort for the company as well as help the farmer,” explains Varghese.
Other agriculture-related information communicated through the app is aimed at educating farmers on new government policies and news, among other updates.
The smartphone penetration into rural areas has helped the company present more features and languages to scale up. The company has used technology platforms like Twitter and Facebook to raise awareness about the app.
The Digital India initiative will help raise awareness and bring more people to such platforms, says Varghese, who is positive that technology will influence the farming sector in a big way, eventually.
Varghese wants to take the total number of users to almost 5 million from the current 30,000—a task that will require fresh funds. The company is looking to raise funds and is talking to various investors. Some of its other initiatives include the launch of a new version of the app in the next few weeks and increasing the employee headcount from five to around 50 in the next few years.
They are now also part of a World Bank project where, with the help of the local governments, they have been mandated to train more people in rural India to use technology-enabled platforms.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the mBillionth and Manthan awards.