Startup Spotlight: Interview with Nikhil Toshniwal Founder of FarmGuide India

FarmGuide is not working towards a solution to address just one aspect of the agri-supply like other agri-tech companies rather we are targeting to make the entire business of agriculture from seed-to-sale more efficient and profitable for the producers – farmers.

We had a chance tot alk to Vishal Menon of FarmGuide. This is what he had to say.

Introduce us to FarmGuide. When was FarmGuide founded, who are your founders?

FarmGuide India was founded in March 2016 by Nikhil Toshniwal. We are currently located in Gurgaon, India.

What problem is FarmGuide trying to solve? Who are your customers?

With a mission to revolutionize the Indian agriculture sector, FarmGuide is bridging the existing information asymmetry using data analytics, machine learning, image processing and information & communication technology (ICT).

FarmGuide’s digitized systems are capturing real-time data to create reliable databases for field level risk analysis, market distribution and effective agriculture policy formulation.

We are a B2B company with agriculture companies and the government as our direct customers. The ultimate beneficiaries of our solutions are farmers.

Tell us a bit about your founder Nikhil Toshniwal.

Our founder Nikhil Toshniwal is 25-year-old and belongs to a small town Rajsamand in the desert state of Rajasthan in India.

He is an alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. He also has a diploma in social entrepreneurship from Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Nikhil has also been a former Grameen Bank intern – where he worked as a trainee on micro-finance in rural areas under Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus.

After this, he returned to his hometown and was researching on the farming sector when he decided to end agriculture apathy using technological solutions.

How many team members does FarmGuide have?

FarmGuide started of as a team of 10. Now, the team has grown to over 60 members

A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually go after yours?

FarmGuide is trying to play a small role for the same with a belief that information asymmetry has to be addressed to resolve these burning issues.

FarmGuide believes in impact on scale and hence is dealing with the largest section of the population.

Keeping farmers at the center of every initiative taken by FarmGuide, we deal with the other agriculture stakeholders to address the issues that they face while dealing with farmers.

How did you go from the business idea to what your business is right now?

In a nutshell, FarmGuide was the first organization to digitize Girdawari or Harvest Inspection programme – the world’s largest data collection system of its kind. FarmGuide has also conceptualized and implemented the crop insurance portal for the government of the desert state of Rajasthan that, for the first time, brought all stakeholders – farmers, banks, insurance companies and government – under one transparent roof. The concept ensured smooth flow of information between stakeholders on a real-time basis and facilitated the timely creation and settlement of error-free insurance scheme.

This unique approach to address a complex problem was acknowledged by the Government of India, who approached us to run the portal for the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. Since taking charge of the All India crop insurance portal, we have on boarded 350,000 local bank branches, 180,000 Common Service Centre, created 9.6 million policies with a sum insured of INR 190 billion or USD 2.79 billion. The portal is for the first time available in 12 regional Indian languages and expanding, so that farmers from any part of the country can operate the website. Our solution has ensured farmers receive their insurance payouts within an unprecedented 3 weeks after applying for it. We have also created the software to ensure the payment reaches the right farmer’s bank account through Direct Benefit Transfer.

Wow, that’s impressive. What is the greatest thing about your startup? What sets you apart from your competition?

FarmGuide is not working towards a solution to address just one aspect of the agri-supply like other agri-tech companies rather we are targeting to make the entire business of agriculture from seed-to-sale more efficient and profitable for the producers – farmers. We provide simple solutions to address complex problems and this is what sets us apart from the competition.

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

FarmGuide wants to bring about a digital revolution in agriculture by touching the lives of India’s 118.9 million farmers through our services. To become scalable, FarmGuide plans to carve a niche in the global market, collaborate with private players, build a technical skeleton, and expand its reach to benefit the maximum number of farmers.

FarmGuide is in the process of developing an interactive dashboard that contains customized and comprehensive reports generated by our analytics team using land records, yield, irrigation, soil health card and harvest estimation data to enhance productivity. This platform will cater to the business and marketing needs of a wide range of agricultural stakeholders. The customer-centric reports will help stakeholders achieve stable productivity levels.

FarmGuide is also working on providing an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) that does not rely on the internet to reach the end user – farmers. This free of cost service will provide farmers 60 call per season with 50% of the calls being dedicated to crop-based advisory, and remaining for weather forecast and alerts, contingency services, mandi prices and marketing information in their regional languages.
Our strength lies in developing innovative, sustainable, scalable, agile, secure and user-friendly applications with timely delivery.

Our simple solutions to solve complex problems also brought us the opportunities to provide digital solutions for direct benefit transfer (DBT) of agricultural subsidies, Interest Subvention Scheme for Seasonal Agricultural Operational (SAO) Loans, and yield assessment technology.

Please share some specific numbers (funding, revenue, visitors) that highlight your growth

While running the pilot in his native panchayat, Nikhil’s determination and technology caught the attention of FarmGuide’s angel investor Neeraj Sharma – who provided FarmGuide its seed fund of Rs 7.5 crore.

FarmGuide follows a Pay As You Use model, and a service-based payment methods. We have invested primarily in its products, research and infrastructure to be able to reach scale. Creating the right infrastructure has enabled us to handle nation-wide crop insurance, process 21 lakh square km of satellite images across 18 states, create R&D model for harvest mapping, pest detection, yield calculation and create cloud based Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) computing capable of shooting 10,000 calls per second.

Are you looking to raise additional funding in future?

Yes, We are looking for potential funders. We look for investors who understand the scope of agriculture in India. Our investors also must share our vision and passion that we have for agriculture in India.

What time do you usually start work each day? How many hours a day do you usually work?

Officially, we work from 1015am to 0715pm. However, being the passionate bunch that we are we end spending as much as 16 to 17 hours a day on our projects to ensure we deliver our products on time as it affects such a large chunk of the population. We believe in the famous quote by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru: “Everything else can wait, but not agriculture”

What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?

We hold a standup meeting where the team members share new ideas, and update the others about the status of ongoing projects. In case a project is completed, the team sits together for a demo on the product to analyze and find any chinks, if any, in the solution.

thanks for your time Vishal. It has been great learning how FarmGuide is revolutionizing agriculture India.

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