Creating a more inclusive agricultural sector in India
How eKutir is accelerating sustainable growth for farming communities
This month we talked to Social Entrepreneur and Innovator Krishna Mishra on how his company, eKutir, is accelerating sustainable growth for farming communities in the country. eKutir is a for-profit social enterprise group that provides economically sustainable solutions anchored with technology, micro-entrepreneurship, and community engagement.
What motivated you to start eKutir and what is your approach to support smallholder farmers in India?
In 2009, I founded eKutir with the mission to eliminate poverty of rural smallholder farmers. We harness digital technology and local entrepreneurship to grow farmers’ economic, social, and human capital.
Through a network of trained micro entrepreneurs, we connect suppliers, aggregators and distributors with smallholder farmers. We train the entrepreneurs and equip them with low-cost mobile applications, which they use to extend agricultural services to the last mile. These services include for example affordable soil analysis, reliable and high-quality farming inputs, sustainable and safe practice education, and key market connections.
I believe that solutions in agriculture have the potential to impact the lives of marginalised communities in many ways, especially granting them economic security.
How did you become an Ashoka fellow?
I developed an innovative outreach model that I call PIE: P stands for participatory, I stands for IT-enabled and E stands for enterprise-driven.
While developing the model, I noticed that large companies are often not connected to people at the last mile. This is because they don’t focus on social aspects in their economic activities. The PIE model changes that by putting a focus on inclusive business aspects and by taking the problems of smallholder farmers into account.
Eventually, this idea gained attention at Ashoka. They analysed the model and came to the conclusion that the PIE model is replicable and that it could have a strong impact on marginalised smallholder farmers across the globe. This is how I became an Ashoka Global Fellow. I have just spent four weeks in Buenos Aires presenting this model to different stakeholders.
What is it that makes the eKutir model innovative?
The innovation of eKutir is in designing a decentralised, risk-mitigating, and transparent infrastructure for entrepreneurs and farmers. Another aspect is that we use information and communication technology (ICT) as a tool to scale and replicate our model.
Our personalised, holistic approach generates rural employment, sustainable income, and increases productivity. At the same time it reduces costs in terms of communication and time associated with each step of the process. This structure simplifies the streams of communication, data and products between the various stakeholders in the agricultural value chain.
How can social enterprises like eKutir build business models that include low-income farmers and what is the role of large corporates?
Inclusive business means that we have to include farmers not only in the decision-making process but also in marketing, product and service design. Large corporates have great financial opportunities and fantastic resources for research and development. If they would (re-)design products and services for small farmers they could achieve a lot of positive impact in agriculture. The problem is the disconnect between what small farmers and what big companies want. Companies travel up to the dealer, but they don’t travel to the last mile to the farmers who could be an alternative supplier for products.
Social businesses like eKutir can play an important role to reduce this disconnect: big companies can partner with us and co-create different products and services for smallholder farmers. This could reduce costs in the supply chain for smallholder products, while there will be a positive impact on the bottom line. The companies and the social entrepreneurs can be sustainable and create last mile delivery and services by including last mile micro-enterprises.
Is there a growing interest from big companies to collaborate with social enterprises, as transaction costs can be reduced?
There are some companies which believe in shared value and would like to participate and co create. Organisations like the Inclusive Business Action Network (IBAN) could help to change the positions of the companies in the space of Agriculture .
To what extent should policymakers in India be aware of inclusive business?
In India, a number of companies implement inclusive business models. The respective governments take part in public private exchanges and release policy prescriptions. However, I can assure you that in India big corporates and enterprises would apply inclusive business models, even if there wouldn't be any policy prescriptions in place.
In order to support inclusive business models for smallholder farmers, the government can provide some policy incentives such as tax incentives for corporates or other financial benefits. The government is more an enabler and facilitator rather than a full participant.
Please tell me about your experience at ii2030 that you recently joined. What were your main take-aways?
I found some partners across different disciplines to work with and I took along methods of design thinking that is critical for creating solutions to social problems.