In places like India and Cambodia, farming is the line of work for some of the population's most impoverished. They sow seed, harvest and sell, but often without the knowledge on how to do it best. The DTIL portfolio company Agribuddy is helping farmers realise their goals, turn a better profit and get ahead with their business. They offer an online platform of tools and a growing troop of trained "buddies" for one-on-one help.
We had a talk with Founder and CEO Kengo Kitaura about the marriage of Japanese and Cambodian farming culture, the importance of great buddies, and how to grow a successful farming platform.
How did you end up in Cambodia?
"I moved to Cambodia a decade ago having three visions in mind; to set up a business outside of Japan, make something with a scalable vision, and to create a social impact. I decided to address the issue of food shortage in a growing population. Coming from Japan, we as a country practice very efficient farming — it's only on a small scale with ageing farmers. In Cambodia, I found out that farmers are young, they have huge amounts of land, but productivity is very low. I saw an opportunity to manage farms in a Japanese way on a massive scale."
When did the original idea for Agribuddy materialise?
"I bought 1,000 hectares of land and started my own Cassava plantation but quickly ran into multiple problems and deadlock situations. Many farmers didn't record their agricultural data or economic history, so the numbers I had didn't add up. That's when I realised I wanted to do business to support the farmers. To create something that behaves as a friend to farmers, providing them with more personal guidance. I started thinking about what we could give the farmers to improve their current conditions, as well as teach them new skills. And, one evening in 2015 while I was sipping my favourite coffee, the word and concept of a "buddy" came to mind. A "buddy" would help them record and share data digitally in a friendly and personalised way."
"We use technology, but its taught and imparted through humans on the ground level."
How does Agribuddy help farmers on a practical level?
"Agribuddy acts as a one-stop solution for all farmer headaches, from capital to inputs, agronomy to crop sales — we've got it all covered under one roof. Most farms need to run their business for 4-6 months without any income. It's a big investment for often the poorest people, as they aren't economically stable and lack the education to sustain the farm across this period. I found this heartbreaking and ridiculous that it hadn't been solved yet. That's why Agribuddy provides them with tools to get financial loans, which they pay back with their harvest, while still making a profit. This is bundled with some extra benefits of expert agronomy advice technology and best industry practices, which helps them make quality crops and enhances their yields and income. Agribuddy also collects and transports all our farmers' crops, upsells them to our multinational partners, pays the farmers' debts and then dispurses the profits."
What's the most inspiring thing for you to do with Agribuddy?
"There are many companies like us out there. But they're high literacy people providing services to low literacy people, and I don't think the majority of farmers in developing countries can use their services. Agribuddy has a "buddy" system that's composed of farmers, and we provide them with tools and training to help and educate others. Instead of forcing low literacy farmers to do something, we handle it for them or teach them how to do it in a very friendly and non-taboo manner. We use technology, but its taught and imparted through humans on the ground level. Guiding them face-to-face is very important to generate that bond of trust and belief."
"We're looking forward to growing our company with investors with a similar mindset about sustainability and services for society."
Where do you see Agribuddy in the next year?
"Here in Cambodia, we aim to acquire over 50,000 farmers by 2021. We'll also expand throughout more states in India, although we won't be able to cover the whole country anytime soon due to its vast diversity. We also plan to go to Myanmar and the Philippines. These countries have some economic similarities and challenges to Cambodia, but, we're very eager to understand and explore their mindset and cultural background."
What do you look for in investors?
"Our company's mission is not aimed at just generating a surplus. Of course, we need to generate profits to be sustainable, but my aim isn't to become a billionaire. We're not looking for investors seeking high profits, and I've had people tell me we need to claim more money from farmers, but this goes entirely against my conscious and cause for which I started Agribuddy. We're looking forward to growing our company with investors with a similar mindset about sustainability and services for society."