Taking India’s farmers beyond ‘tractorisation’
Mechanisation of farmlands and innovations in agri-tech
Multi-level business model for small and big farmers
Agriculture is a business where you don’t enter to exit after five years. I am going to stay here for a very long time.
When Devi Murthy finished her electrical engineering programme from Drexel University in Philadelphia in 2008, she had no inkling that she could potentially touch the lives of thousands of Indian farmers within a decade. On her return from the United States, she joined the family business, Kamal Bells, an automotive component manufacturer, based in Bengaluru.She did a part-time programme with the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB). Some of her IIMB classmates approached her to seek help in manufacturing products. This gave her the insight that she’s now looking to capitalise on.
“A couple of classmates from my IIM days came from an agricultural background. They asked me to make something in my factory. Finding it useful, a few of their neighbours also asked me for the same products. Then I realised that such products are actually needed in the market,” she says.
Devi started Kamal Kisan, aimed at the mechanisation of farming, in 2013. After conducting a year of research on agri-tech products, she realised that they were not working well for the Indian farmer. That was the moment she decided to start her own company. Kamal Kisan follows an interesting business model: design the machinery, get it made by small factories and sell to big farmers. Big farmers often rent them to small farmers. So far Devi has sold items to 3,000 farmers and her machinery has reached over 10,000 farmers via rentals in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Devi, who hails from Bengaluru, ventured into the business at a time when an agrarian crisis sparked by a prolonged drought is plaguing vast parts of Karnataka and neighbouring states. This made providing cost-effective solutions to farmers more significant.
Farm equipment manufacturing has long been seen as a male preserve. However, Devi seems to have crossed this hurdle with her persistence and grit. And she’s clear that she is in it for the long haul: “Agriculture is a business where you don’t enter to exit after five years. I am going to stay here for a very long time,” she says.
Devi’s solution is to increase farmers’ incomes by focusing on process efficiency through the mechanisation of India’s farmlands. Her five products – vegetable planter, mulch layer, raised bed maker, mulch hole maker and weeder bush cutter - are helping farmers across the spectrum. And the numbers are beginning to talk: after touching sales of Rs 30 lakh last year, she is expecting to cross Rs crore in the current financial year and is targeting Rs 2.5 crore in 2019-20.
She typically puts in 10-11 hours a day and sees herself like any other for-profit entrepreneur. Farmers, she says, are her business partners. She is also planning to double her product portfolio in the next couple of years and expand across South India. She prefers hiring people with a farming background. Dayananda K, one of her employees, hails from a farming family in Nanjangud taluk of Mysuru. “I remember the struggles my parents used to face while farming. Keeping those in mind, I started developing products with Devi,” he says.
So far, her customers are happy about the productivity gains in their small landholdings. “I have purchased a weed cutter from Kamal Kisan. We have seen our crop getting constantly destroyed by the weed. This small machine helps us a lot. It is easy to carry and is user-friendly,” said Suresh Ponna, a farmer based in Andhra Pradesh. Her machines have also helped cut labour costs.
“We have purchased a bed maker and mulch layer. Earlier, we were manually mulching. With this machine, we are saving both time and labour. Devi has been providing customised solutions for our issues,” said Raghunandan, a farmer in North Karnataka.
“She designs medium scale mills that communities can own to process paddy. She has also designed tools like weeders that help small farmers,” says G Krishna Prasad of Sahaja Samrudha, an organisation that is working with farmers.
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