Indian farmers have long been burdened with a multitude of challenges that hinder their productivity and economic progress. If farmers get access to real-time weather updates, transparent market pricing, agricultural best practices, and expert advice they can make informed decisions, mitigate risks, adopt modern farming techniques, and reduce post-harvest losses. Bharat Krushi Seva, an agri-tech startup, founded in July 2021 by Sharayu Lande and Hemant Dhole Patil, is equipping farmers with a platform and tools and helping them to achieve profitable and sustainable farming.
Techies turned entrepreneurs
An IT engineer by profession, Sharayu has done her MBA from Welingkar Institute of Management and an Executive Management Programme in Entrepreneurship Development from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi. Coming from a family of sugarcane farmers having seven-acre farm in Manchar-Khed region of Pune district, and having closely observed the struggles faced by farmers, Sharayu always aspired to become an entrepreneur. After completing her higher education, Sharayu joined a software company for a short stint where she met her co-founder Hemant Dhole Patil.
Says Sharayu, “Initially we thought of arranging CSR funds for farmers but soon realised that CSR or government compensation funds will never uplift farmers. We wanted to do something which will empower farmers and that is where we conceptualised Bharat Krushi Seva.”
“In the early days, we thought we should give Internet of Things (IoT) devices to farmers, but immediately changed our minds, as most of the marginal farmers having 1- or 2-acre land would never afford those devices or technology,” Sharayu added.
Hemant said, “In 2021, we took a bold decision to quit our jobs and engage full-time in our new venture Bharat Krushi Seva. We both had put in ₹1 crore together from our savings then. By combining our expertise in IT and deep understanding of the farming community, we embarked on a mission to empower farmers and bridge the gap between traditional agriculture and modern solutions.”
Sharayu and Hemant began with physical interactions and providing one-on-one assistance to farmers. Sharayu recalls, “Technology was only a part of our job, and we focused on working with core data. We soon recognised the need to provide additional services such as satellite monitoring and IoT equipment. We conducted numerous test cases and asked farmers for their feedback. When asked about installing a device at our own family farm, we were told that the device’s safety would be our responsibility. This was a reality-check for us. Farmers, as users, often lack knowledge about what can happen with technology and what needs to be implemented. They are still in the education stage, and it is our role to help them understand the impact and power of making strong data-driven decisions.”
Hemant added, “When we ran a pilot project with farmers, we implemented direct satellite mapping, but some farmers were sceptical. Although they had practical experience of several years, they needed to embrace predictive analytics and measures. Farmers were once entrepreneurs but have forgotten how to run a profitable business. Farmers now need to accept that due to climate change, they will have to adapt sustainable agricultural practices.”
Sharayu said, “We engaged consultants and faculty from agricultural institutes and universities to help farmers understand the visible signs of stress, with satellite imagery proving to be a valuable tool. Out of the initial 200 farmers, only 20 allowed us to monitor their farms using satellite imagery and we visited their farms every Saturday to provide guidance on fertiliser and pesticide dosages. Later, we also sought assistance from agricultural experts to create crop-wise calendars. Simultaneously, Hemant was focused on establishing an agricultural input marketplace and connecting farmers with potential buyers. Post-harvest losses amounted to 20-30 per cent of the wastage of the produce which was economically devastating for farmers. With the trust of those initial 200 farmers, we gained more users, but the limited CSR funds prevented us from covering a wider region.”
Hemant said, “Through the support of those 20 farmers, we were able to connect with an additional 2,000 farmers, primarily cultivating onions, vegetables, grapes, and pomegranates. These crops faced significant challenges from pest and disease attacks. Our initial efforts began in the Junnar region, laying the foundation for expanding our services and impact.”
Sharayu and Hemant launched the Bharat Krushi Seva app on July 20, 2021. “We were fortunate to get the name and build a trusted platform for Indian farmers,” says Sharayu and Hemant. Adding further, “We began gathering data about the crops, their stages, conditions required for healthy growth along with information about precautions to prevent or deal with diseases and pest attacks. Our next challenge was to work on real-time data received from satellite imagery and other sources.
Hemant said, “After launching the app, we hired three agriculture graduate students and streamlined the process of answering calls from farmers including giving advisory and onboarding guidance. We were expecting 10 thousand farmers to use BKS advisory services, but we got 1 lakh from Maharashtra in just six months. We had not raised funding till then. We had initially thought of raising funds and then hiring a team, but it happened the exact opposite. We had to hire people first to cater to an increasing customer base. Now we have a 40-member strong team.”
Bharat Krushi Seva also offers weather analysis solutions to farmers. Explaining it further Sharayu says, “We were aware that only advisory service would not be sufficient for us and the farmers. So, we collaborated with two companies for providing weather analysis services. We took real-time data from them and did historical analysis for crops based on 44 parameters of weather. Then we started working on pest and disease alerts and detection services. Soon we are also starting irrigation alert services.”
Hemant said, “BKS advisory services were free of cost. Our revenue came from the procurement arm which was sufficing our primary needs.”
Sharayu and Hemant tried an untraditional approach with farmers. They wanted farmers to pay a minimum amount to use their platform. They said, “When we decided to launch a subscription plan for farmers, we wanted to validate our advisory services and maintain the stickiness of the farmers and to utilise the platform optimally despite other platforms being available for free. We launched the subscription with ₹99, then waived off but then we found a price point. We now offer this service at ₹299 per acre per year.”
Explaining the growth phase from ₹54 lakh to ₹42 crore revenue, Hemant said, “We entered the procurement channel once 1 lakh farmers became active on our platform. Initially, we had institutional buyers but that turned out unfeasible due to logistics issues. The other channel was trader partner. We had farmers, residue-free and export quality products, good packaging, etc. In July 2022, we entered the agri-input channel as farmers were also demanding it. We began our home deliveries of various products to farmers in Pune and Solapur district which reduced the input cost of farmers by 20 per cent and increased productivity up to 35 per cent.”
“When any farmer subscribes to our services and is onboarded on our app, we have observed that they buy fertilisers or other products about 4 to 5 times a year. The average order value is ₹ 7,500 to ₹10,000 per acre. Farmers expect ₹5-6 lakh income per acre,” Hemant added.
Women-led social enterprises
At present, BKS is undergoing acceleration through Tvaran, a six-month programme launched by Villgro and CISCO. This programme is specifically designed for women-led social enterprises engaged in climate action. Its primary objective is to enhance the market presence of startups that are spearheading innovation in renewable energy, water and waste management, and climate-smart agriculture. Despite the significant impact generated by women-led green-tech startups, they continue to encounter numerous obstacles, such as limited access to capital and markets. The TVARAN initiative seeks to address this issue.