I Support Farming - Connects Both the Rural Farmer and the Urban People
The company is currently been mentored by Mr. Lakshmi Narayanan, Vice Chairman of Cognizant because he loves the idea and he always have the willingness towards supporting agriculture and the upliftment of the farming communities.
I Support Farming is a social platform that works towards the enhancement of the lives of the farmers (predominantly small and marginal). One of the main challenge for them is lack of capital because of which they sell their land, leave the village and do odd jobs in quest of their livelihoods. On the other hand, people from cities always have the willingness to help the people who are in need. There is a growing awareness on Organic farming, terrace gardening etc. But there is no proper medium to connect both the ends. I Support Farming is creating a platform where both can partner together and take up agriculture. The capital will given by the people from city, work will be done by the farmer and the startup’s team monitors the complete crop cycle working closely with the farmers and at end of the harvest the profits are shared among them.
The company is currently been mentored by Mr. Lakshmi Narayanan, Vice Chairman of Cognizant because he loves the idea and he always have the willingness towards supporting agriculture and the upliftment of the farming communities. He is evangelizing the idea to other like minded people in his circle.
Team BW Disrupt interacts with Vijayakumar Mani, CoFounder & Director, I Support Farming and spoke to him
How does ISF work?
ISF is a bridge that connects both the rural farmer and the urban people. It’s a platform where people from cities can partner with the farmers and take up agriculture. The capital is given by the urban person, farming is done by the farmer & all the coordination and monitoring is done by ISF. At the end the yield is shared by all the three. If you look at, the farmer gets the money to farm ; the urban person makes in all the investment to help the farmer and also gets a return; the company coordinates all the work and get a share of the produce.
We want to promote agriculture in the minds of urban people and if you look at our tag line, it says “You can be a farmer too” and that's the message we want to give to our customers. We want as many people to say "I Support Farming” and thereby agriculture grows and so does the farmer.
The farmers are evaluated based on certain criteria that considers their experience, social reliability via background check, usage of latest technologies and so on. For a customer, we want to keep it simple. It is just 5 step process. 1. If someone is interested in farming, they approach us and we complete the agreement and sign up formalities. 2. We give a login and password to our portal to access updates on the crops they have chosen and paid for 3. Farmer cultivates the crop and ISF monitors; customers monitor via the portal and they can also visit the farm and interact with the farmers. 4. Cropping is completed; harvest done 5. The produce is shared based on fixed terms and the customer gets the produce share or the money.
What are the unique key points of your company?
High Impact – The business focuses on rural farmers and landless laborers, addressing a social sector where there is a demand and the impact is high.
Serves both Urban and Rural population where there is a win-win for both societies, resulting in an overall social synergy.
The platform provides an opportunity for the the urban investors to take up any farming activity based on their interests like Paddy, pulses, poultry, goat, dairy etc. The business model influences a wide variety of the agro sector including agriculture, horticulture, livestock, aquaculture etc.
From a business model perspective, it is a low capex model with high returns and scalability. Changes the perception on farming and agriculture and projects them as a good investment options for urban people
Creates a sense of pride and ownership when customers say “I Support Farming”.
How are you different from the existing competitors?
The business model is quite unique that we are yet to see an established player in the sector. The distant competitors may be we could consider like Milaap or KIVA in terms of business models but they are P2P Lending platforms where people can lend capital to farmers or platforms where they can donate to a cause but there is no platform that connects the people from city and the farmers where both can partner together and take up agriculture.
What is the funding status and monetization model?
We are currently running the startup bootstrapped with the capital from the co-founders. Since we do Farming as a Service, we take an upfront service charge with which we run the business. We are in talks with couple of Angel Investors from Chennai & Bangalore for funding.
What challenges are you facing in running your business?
One of the main challenges we faced at the start was how do we define our business itself. Is it a finance company, producer company, social company etc. But we finally squared in that we are a services company and we offer farming as a service.
What are the traction details?
We have started the first operations in April 2016 with 10 customers in 7 acres of land in Cuddalore district. We just completed our second crop this Jan in around 50 acres of land. We are growing further and will be moving towards an acreage of 150 acres in the next 2 to 3 months. We have around 50 customers now. We started off with paddy and today have expanded to blackgram, ground nut, Watermelon, poultry and goat farming. We consider the first 2 crops as pilot and we have got some good response and we think it is time to scale up and grow exponentially.
How do you look at expansion?
On the Operations Plans: While we will continue the existing crops of paddy, Water Melon, Ground nut & Black gram, we plan to expand the crop range to add other cereals and millet. We also plan to add horticultural crops like fruits and vegetables. On the live stock, Poultry (Broiler) and Goat will continue, we will add country chicken, Turkey and Prawns.
On the overall Business Scenario, As I said earlier, we want everyone to take up farming and say ISF. We are planning to attract more customers, predominantly focusing on IT Employees who can subscribe even as low as INR 5000. We are also looking at launching our own products in the coming years with an ecommerce portal where we can sell the produces of our farmers directly to the consumers. We are looking at expanding the acreage from 50 to another 1500 in a year so that we can impact the lives of larger number of farmers.
What are your marketing plans?
Since this is a digital age and our customers are mostly corporate employees, we rely more on social media and other digital channels. We will also focus heavily on content marketing so that there is enough information that is fed to the urban society on the topics of agriculture and farming.
What has been the biggest learnings so far?
There’s a lot of learning that we have got in the pilot stage. The first learning is “Not everything goes by your plan and you have to think on your feet”. That too on agriculture where you are dealing with a crop or livestock which is a living thing, just couple of days could make a huge difference. Another learning from the customer perspective is pegging the expectations. I think we played well on that area with our customers. Just to get in more customers, we did not peg the expectations of high returns in the minds of our customers and when they got more than expected, they were happy. I think managing expectations is an important learning.
What is the market size and opportunity?
Market wise, from the customer perspective, every Indian is our potential customer and India is mainly rural country. With the backbone of our country being agriculture, the opportunity is huge.
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