AgriculturaL sector as a whole employs almost 40 per cent of the population in Bangladesh and accounts for about 12 per cent of the country's GDP (gross domestic product). The use of agrotech around the world has shown how it can help its stakeholders in various ways and Bangladesh is also adopting these technological innovations in agriculture. As a young innovation enthusiast, this writer had the opportunity to work for a leading agri-tech startup, iFarmer, and see the impact and innovation it is creating at the different levels of the agricultural sector.
iFarmer is a growing agri-fintech business in Bangladesh that allows profit for farmers in order to implement better and more advanced agricultural technologies. The company's mission statement is to combine agriculture production, industry experts, product managers, software engineers, and advisors who are dedicated to providing as much assistance to local farmers as possible while looking for ways to increase food production, food security, and agricultural entrepreneurship in Bangladesh.
Investing in agriculture made easy: As many professionals look for alternative investment opportunities, investing in agriculture has always been one of the top choices for many. Hence, iFarmer has streamlined the funding process through its tech innovations. The iFarmer app is an investment platform where anyone can invest in different farms available in the app. The app requires an active email for signup and valid documents e.g. NID (National Identity Card), passport, and bank details before making an investment. Once people fund their selected farm, they must wait until the end of the farm cycle before they can earn a percentage of the earnings made from the sale. The farm cycle is between 4 and 12 months. This app is useful for community contribution because it will be able to eliminate loans that come with high-interest rates, which is a giant struggle that farmers are dealing with. Earnings from funding are based on specific criteria and will depend on the farm a person funds at.
Empowering farmers: Financing and supporting farmers are complex. Verification is a challenge for farmers. The unity of human agents, technology, and remote sensing has been the core objective of iFarmer's apps in order to simplify the agricultural process for farmers in general. iFarmer has developed the 'Sofol' app, with the vision to establish a digital platform to connect farmers with easy access to finance, market, and advisory services while ensuring efficiency and transparency. The first step is to add a farmer through NID which is being verified through the Porichoy database in real-time. The next step is to provide certain information required to build the farmers' profiles and assess their creditworthiness. Once the farmer requests finance along with detailed information on the crop the farmer is going to sow which later is reviewed from the iCore app by the field coordinators of iFarmer. To ensure transparency and farmer's consent an OTP or SMS is being sent in all the key interactions related to financing. The next step is adding a project; a project type, purchase date and price, and relevant project category must be selected. The last step is closing the project; a project type, end date, and selling price must be selected.
Agri-input marketplace: Another innovative app is 'KriShop' and its mission is to build the most efficient platform which adjoins an agri input marketplace with adequate advisory services with a view to creating a positive impact on farmers' livelihoods. This app is mainly an e-commerce platform for the agri-input retailers where they can buy all the inputs and get doorstep delivery. The app also allows people and retailers to make transactions, view customer lists, order agricultural products, view agricultural content and business reports.
Soil and remote sensing: To modernise farming, specific technologies can be used to analyse and manage soil moisture during the growing seasons. One of them is an intelligent soil sensor that ultimately reduces crop loss and ensures productivity increase. Through the Sofol app, a user can give input from the soil sensors and get the analysis and requirement of fertilisers of the soil. Similarly they have implemented remote sensing through satellite surveillance. Facilitators are able to get the data related to crop vegetation of farmlands using satellite representations to provide useful information, and they would usually use smartphones to get this information.
Fitbit for cows: The final technology that was interesting to learn about was a 'Fitbit' for dairy cattle, known as 'Cowdy'. This is one of the technologies that help farm owners save money and earn more. The Cowdy device comes with a strap that goes around the cow's neck to measure the temperature, activity, and behaviour of the cow, which gives farmers options on what to do.
Working for a growing startup, even as an intern, can be very rewarding. It can help one learn critical thinking and self-discipline. Successful startups also encourage people to ask questions and think more deeply about different aspects of the business. Although it can be challenging to retain the intricacies of a diverse disruptive agri-fintech business like iFarmer, many young people will find it insightful and motivating, especially when they will see how it is revolutionising the agriculture sector of Bangladesh and making an impact on the farmers' lives.
The writer worked as an intern for iFarmer. He can be reached at [email protected]