This startup is helping marginal farmers
With farmers' protests cropping up all over the country and recently in the national capital, it is the right time to focus on India's agrarian distress today. Why are farmers not able to get remunerative prices? Obviously, the terms of trade (the ratio of agricultural prices to industrial prices) have turned against the farmer, which is why the retail inflation rate is low at 3.3 percent.
Agricultural products are facing deflation and it is affecting the lives of millions of people. Around half the India population is engaged in agriculture and allied industries, yet their contribution to the GDP is only 14 percent.
Preliminary findings of a survey of more than 1,000 agricultural households across 12 Indian states show that 60% of those who did harvest reported a yield loss, and 1/10th of them could not harvest their crop in the past months due to the pandemic. More than half (56%) of the farmers said that the lockdown had impacted their ability to prepare for the upcoming sowing season. The survey has found a "robust association between food insecurity & farm size, with landless farmers ten times more likely to skip a meal in the past month compared to large farmers."
In between all this Thane-based Rukart technologies objective is to make farming economical and environmentally sustainable for a marginal farmer. RuKart design, develop and disseminate affordable, recurring cost-free, robust and scalable products for the marginal farmer market to reduce the input cost and mitigate the risk in cultivation.
This project was initiated in IIT Bombay.
The agrarian crisis is increasing day by day due to smaller plot sizes, high input cost, high on-farm post-harvest losses, depleting water table and lack of direct market linkage. As per the NSSO 70th round, January – December 2013, the marginal and small farmers constitute around 85% of India's total farming population. This niche group also holds almost 53 % of the whole agricultural land. The landholding trend in agriculture shows that the percentage of households for all holding categories has declined, except for the marginal category. The net income from cultivation is negative for the small plot holder (Ref: NSSO 70th round, 2012-13, Govt. Of India). These small plot holders are often unable to invest in capital intensive technologies – like a motorized pump, cold storage, tractor, harvester, etc. The startup offers a basket of technologies for the small plot holders ranging from Manual water lifting pump, cold storage, crop protection device to water management technologies.
The story started
Vikas Jha was born and brought up in the Madhubani district of Bihar. As a child, he, along with his elder brothers, used to help grandparents in farm activities. And from that day onwards, he has continued his love for farms and farmers and turned it into a startup in 2019.
This problem statement came during a course work at IIT Bombay. Sharayu Kulkarni, batchmate and co-founder, started with a bunch of potential solutions to help with the irrigation and storage facilities of marginal farmers. Later with the help of a few progressive farmers (Maharashtra and Odisha) and their mentors, they came up with the Treadle Pump coupled with Drip Kit and Subjee Cooler.
Right now, either people are using traditional methods or phase-change based cold-storage with capacity of 3 tonnes or so.
The machine costs 5-7 lakhs, hence out of reach for individual farmers.
Now all farmers can't stay near the storage point.
Hence, an *additional burden of transportation cost* (from farm to cold storage) on them.
Taking into account the high price of diesel and the fact that farmer's margin is hardly 1-1.5 Rupees/KG, this model turns unsustainable for a large chunk of farmers.
Also, the farmers who are visiting mandi daily or on alternate days, with Subjee cooler, can *adopt a weekly cycle*, further reducing their logistics costs.
Challenges are part of the journey
They faced a series of challenges during this journey but as Bernice Johnson Reagon said, "Challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are." And through these challenges, they discovered themselves.
The biggest challenge was getting funds for the piloting idea. Here, the alma mater extended support to them through their R&D funding. The next biggest challenge was finding the right team. Here they were lucky that many students and alumni from IIT Bombay liked the idea and joined them. The next challenge for them was and still is to generate enough sales and for it, they are trying hard to raise the number of orders.
Challenges are like stairs, you can't just jump from them otherwise, you will fall down; you need a vital step to cross them.
The biggest motivation for them was stories coming from the field. "My team is a big motivation factor. And, most importantly, farmers and people whom I do meet during my visits. When farmers and traders like our product and share happiness, that is the biggest motivation for the RuKart team," told Vikas Jha to Startup Times.
"Listen to farmers patiently. Accept their feedback and try to incorporate those," Vikas added.