Connect with us

Interviews

Krishna Mishra, Founder of eKutir Agriculture

Published

on

Meet Krishna Mishra, Founder of eKutir Agriculture. Krishna is a social entrepreneur running a for-profit social business, eKutir, to work for the progress of small and marginal farmers and improve their socio-economic state.

1216f45

Family Influence

Krishna grew up in a village of Odisha, a rural village that was surrounded by poverty and misery. He was deeply influenced by his father, a Gandhian who actively engaged in various development initiatives. As a child, Krishna observed and engaged with various relief efforts with his father. The famine that hit Orissa in the 1970s marked him deeply. He was moved by the way people coped with disaster and saw the nexus between poverty and food security from close quarters.

Seeking a future in government service, Krishna pursued his education in political science. His interest in psychology led him to focus on political behavior – a skill that helps him work with communities today. Convinced that agriculture is intrinsic to development in India, Krishna focused on exploring the interconnections between political structures and agriculture while pursuing his masters in political science. These experiences exposed him to various systems and seeded thoughts around designing political and community structures.

Field_pictures (30 of 38)

Empowering Farmers

Krishna joined NABARD, a development institution in 1983, to empower farmers. During the 23 years with NABARD, he worked closely with communities launching self-help and farmer groups in India whilst designing several products. After eight years of working on the ground, he moved to Delhi and was instrumental in policies that continue to be offered even today, including; watershed development initiatives and orchard plantation initiatives, (popularly known as WADI), in collaboration with various national and international corporations. Krishna was also responsible for the creation of incentives that would orient commercial banks to focus on the agricultural sector and reach the poor communities in India.

All these initiatives gave Krishna insights into the limitations of existing approaches and he felt the need to re-design structures under which farmers were organized to ensure that it was participatory in nature and could withstand the pressures of the market forces. He drew from models in the U.S. where bonds of cooperatives were traded upon. However, he slowly became convinced that products and services targeting the farmers were driven by supply of the private sector and government and not based on farmer demand. This made him realize that there was a need to create a farmer-centric, inclusive, and sustainable model, which will involve a holistic, yet personalized approach to address the needs of farmers and ventured out to establish eKutir in 2009.

Value chain dysfunction and highly disconnected eco-system

In 2009-10, eKutir initiated its pilot in Agriculture with 6 micro-entrepreneurs and 300 farmers. This pilot initiative was in collaboration with Grameen-Intel Social Business in extending soil-testing and nutrient management solution to the farmers. With a rigorous pilot for one year, the results were quite intriguing, with benefits perceived for both micro-entrepreneur and farmers. An understanding of the agriculture value chain and institutional service delivery followed this pilot.

In Agriculture itself, the sheer dysfunction of the value chain, highly disconnected eco-system, and exploitative strategies keeps the smallholder farmer trapped in poverty. This further characterizes low yields, low incomes, few or no market linkages, and low access to finance. The smallholder farmer is prone to high risk owing to small land acreage alongside lack of confidence and trust by the system in the farmers. A farming cycle is such that a smallholder farmer, with an income of about $1 a day, is required to undertake various activities apart from laboring on the field. The farmer must assess the state of the soil, determine the choice of input supplements, application methods and best growth practices, acquire seeds and other inputs, manage pests and diseases, access credit and market information, organize transport, and identify purchasers for the produce.

IMG_4595

Promoting productivity and income

The innovation of eKutir is in designing a decentralized, risk-mitigated, and transparent system to extend agriculture services to the farmers. This led to the creation of “PIE” model, which is widely accepted to extend agriculture and non-agriculture services to the rural communities. In 2013, eKutir established Krishi Vikas (Farmer Development) to extend its PIE model and a gamut of agriculture services to more than 50,000 farmers. The model has been widely accepted by NABARD to promote smallholder productivity and income for 50,000 additional farmers by 2015. Gradually, the model has gained acceptance and spread to 4 different states with different field partners in India.

Grameen-Intel Social Business has deployed the ICT-enabled tools, co-designed through the domain knowledge and expertise of eKutir, in Bangladesh and Macedonia. International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) is taking the technology to countries like Cambodia and Nepal for the benefit of smallholder farmers.

PIE stands for Participatory, ICT enabled and Entrepreneurship-driven approach.

eKutir creates a distribution network of micro-entrepreneur independently or in collaboration with its field partners.

  • Identification, selection and training of micro-entrepreneurs
  • Market Opportunity and Gap Analysis
  • Business Planning and Handholding
  • Designing the Eco system to address to that problem

ICT-enabled tools under current deployment includes:

FPMT – A one-stop tool used to capture data, manage portfolio of the farmers, provide market linkages, access to advisory services, and aggregate demand-supply. This tool allows the potential input suppliers and buyers to gain access to a group of farmers, which becomes an opportunity for them to provide quality products at affordable prices. FPMT allows the farmers to choose quality inputs and sell the produce at fair prices, creating value through the agriculture value chain.

Seed Selection Tool (ankur) – ankur is a seed selection and recommendation tool. Last-mile entrepreneurs use Ankur to assist farmers with better seed selection to achieve increased productivity and farm yield.

Nutrient Management Tool (mrittika) – mrittika is the soil nutrient analysis and recommendation tool. Last-mile entrepreneurs offer soil-testing services to the farmers and use mrittika to analyze the results to recommend fertilizer for achieving cost-effective and optimum productivity.

There are several other software applications that are under development and will be rolled out in the next 5-10 years.

Field_pictures (38 of 38)

Equipping farmers with the necessary soil knowledge

eKutir piloted mrittika, a software application that recommends nutrient application on the basis of soil-testing analysis. The value proposition of this tool was to equip the farmers with the necessary knowledge about their soil, crops to be grown, and the requisite application of nutrients and fertilizers, basis of soil characteristics.

When the first phase of pilot was conducted with 300 farmers, it created excitement among the farmers on seeing the soil testing conducted in front of them at their farm. When the test results were presented, the farmers were astonished with the appropriateness of soil analysis, as majority of these farmers had faced challenges in procuring the soil testing report timely, from the soil health centers established by the Government. The approach of using mobile soil test kits at the farm increased the inquisitiveness of the farmer and helped in disseminating appropriate knowledge on testing and soil health.

Post soil testing, the results were entered in to mrittika, which on the basis of the farmer information captured provided the quantity, quality, and availability of nutrient/fertilizer on the farmland. The software tool had a detailed step-wise algorithm at the back-end with a simplistic user interface to help the micro-entrepreneur enter details and get corresponding recommendations. The software application allowed localization and customization, tailored to a particular region. When compared with the current dosage given by the farmers, it was understood that there was over-application of fertilizers, which were spurious, and were bought at unfair prices.

To test the efficacy of mrittika, a control and treatment group were created. The control group applied the same dosage wherein the treatment group applied the dosage recommended by mrittika with the nutrient procured through eKutir. The results were overwhelming for the treatment group with the best farmer showing 133% reduction in costs, 200% increased crop yield, and 250% increased income on the crop. This established farmer’s trust in eKutir and helped us organically increase our outreach without any additional marketing.

The initial reaction of the farmers helped eKutir build a sense of trust and credibility, which increased farmer’s confidence in the system, and made them understand that this is a non-exploitative way to help them become more productive.

As, eKutir believe in designing appropriate software applications to benefit the needs of the farmers, eKutir came up with additional tools like ankur, FPMT, TIME Tool, and so on to help address the small gaps in the agriculture value chain, with a vision to create a suite of ICT-enabled tools that will help drive our mission to benefit millions of smallholder farmers.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/ekutir
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eKutirSB
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ekutirsb
YouTube: How eKutir works
Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/71197753

Callum Connects

Andrew Schorr, Founder of Grata

Published

on

Taking a different route throughout his life, Andrew Schorr ended up in China and started several businesses.

What’s your story?
I moved to China after I graduated from college in 2004. English teaching was the easiest way to get there, so I looked on a map and picked a small town in Hubei, because it looked to be more or less in the middle of China. I was the only foreigner there.

Back then, everything was about the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, so I moved to the capital after my year of teaching. Pretty soon after arriving, I met the co-founder for all three of my companies. We decided to start a company together the first day we met. He has now moved back to the US and builds flight software at SpaceX.

Our first company, an online city guide, was re-purposed into our second company, GuestOps, a web concierge platform. We sold GuestOps to most of the major international hotel brands in China and still operate it. The genesis of our latest company, Grata came from looking at the intersection of hotels and WeChat in 2012, when WeChat was just starting to blow up. Grata expanded from hotels into a live-agent customer service console.

What excites you most about your industry?
Our thesis with Grata has always been that what is happening with WeChat in China is the future of messaging platforms globally, and as an international team building on WeChat, we would be well-placed to capitalize on that trend. It’s taken longer than we expected for the industry (and us, for that matter) to get there, but finally, we’re starting to see messaging as a platform to get better traction in other markets.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian. I grew up in Texas, where all my friends studied Spanish in school. I studied German for no reason in particular. I took a similar path in college: Chinese and Japanese seemed like languages that not a lot of people who look like me studied. I was one of only two students in my third-year Chinese class.

Concur conference in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (Photo by Paul Sakuma, Paul Sakuma Photography) www.paulsakuma.com

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Shanghai. I should live there, but Beijing has been home for so long. I take the night train down to Shanghai every two-three weeks to meet with clients. Domestic flights are way too unreliable here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Don’t plan too far ahead; otherwise, you plan yourself out of good opportunities.

Who inspires you?
Has anyone said “Elon Musk” yet? Barack Obama would be another.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The gravitational waves recently detected from neutron stars colliding, were so subtle as to only affect the distance from earth to our closest star, Alpha Centauri (4.24 light years away) by the width of a human hair. Perhaps in another life or in the future, I’ll be an astronomer, but a telescope doesn’t do me much good in Beijing.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
When I give advice to students looking to get into entrepreneurship, I advise them to work for a post-Series A startup first and learn from a company that’s already doing things well. I learnt everything on my own, which is slower and you pay for your own education. If you work for a startup that’s small in the beginning, you risk learning bad habits.

How do you unwind?
I Hash! The Hash is a drinking club with a running problem. The Hash attracts good people from all walks of life and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a great way to meet fun-loving people all over the world. It’s also how I met my co-founder, our first lawyer, and my girlfriend.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia. A fantastic beach and where I first learned to scuba dive.

Everyone in business should read this book:
For business in China, Tim Clissold’s, Mr. China.

Shameless plug for your business:
Grata does WeChat contact centers for many top-tier brands in luxury retail, travel, financial services and hospitality. We started developing on WeChat before they even had an open platform. Grata provides the most value for large enterprises with complex routing and content demands for their contact centers.

How can people connect with you?
Check out www.grata.co or email me: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
My personal handle is @andrew_schorr and we tweet about messaging from the company handle @grata_co.

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

Continue Reading

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

Published

on

Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

Continue Reading

Trending