In the year In 2014, Okrit Unahlekaka, an engineering and management student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, proposed developing mobile devices to increase the income of smallholder farmers in his native Thailand in the Development Ventures class.
Growing up in a family that ran agribusinesses in Thailand, Unahalekaka saw how smallholder farmers were plagued by issues such as low productivity, high supply chain fragmentation, lack of finance, lack of market access and exploitation. Brokers.
“Most farmers face losses every season, and most of them are too old to realize that they are making losses. They are getting older and older, which is going to be a structural issue affecting almost half of the country’s population,” Unahalekaka said. CASIA
Although more than 30% of Thailand’s workforce is employed in the agricultural sector, this labor accounts for only 10% of Thailand’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to the United Nations, which accounts for 40% of farm households’ annual income. Income below the national poverty line of THB 32,000 (US$1,069).
There are many forces acting on Thai farmers, some natural, others man-made. “Without innovation, farmers are very vulnerable to climate-related issues such as rain and drought. It is very difficult for farmers to get loans from commercial banks, because most of them do not have income statements or monthly salaries. They have to use loan sharks that charge them 200% more than banks every year. They don’t even have access to the market to sell their products,” said Unahalekaka.
Smallholder farmers generally have difficulty accessing regional and global markets, as they often have limited access to information to help them make key decisions such as determining fair prices for their crops. Also, many farmers are in debt, or may be forced to sell their produce to middlemen who can handle business matters.
In the same Development Ventures department at MIT, Unhalekaka met Usman Javaid, a Pakistani who saw the plight of farmers in his own country. The two found Ricult in 2015. Exactly one year later, They are joined by two MIT alumni, Jonathan Stoller, a computer science graduate who previously worked for Google and Microsoft, and Gabriel Torres, a trader at a US hedge fund.
In March 2016, they started operations in Pakistan selling seeds and fertilizers to local farmers. In October 2017, the company launched its mobile app in Thailand, four months after its launch. Fast forward: Recult has served more than 304,800 farmers in Thailand and Pakistan.
The startup’s business model is focused on collecting data from a large number of smallholder farmers scattered across a country and selling it to agricultural stakeholders. This fills a gap – systematic and insightful information about farms and farmers is generally not available.
Ricult does this in two ways. It makes a free app for farmers that provides information such as weather forecasting and monitoring, crop performance advice and remote crop monitoring through satellite imagery. In return, farmers using the app must record a variety of information, including the GPS coordinates of the farm, some personal information, the type of crop they grow, soil quality and fertilizer application.
After compiling the data, Ricult generates credit scores for farmers that indicate their ability to repay loans. Meanwhile, the company sells the data to banks, lenders, insurers, agricultural input suppliers, forest management organizations or other agribusiness organizations to calculate risk or predict farm results more effectively.
The app connects farmers to a digital marketplace where they can buy seeds, fertilizers and pesticides directly from international organizations. It also creates new business relationships by linking farmers with buyers through processing plants.
Unahalekaka confirmed that the company complies with Thailand’s Personal Data Protection Act BE 2562 and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, known as PPDA, to prevent misuse and collection in the country.
Much of the company’s revenue comes from selling its data to banks and large agribusiness firms. It also charges a commission fee for products listed on the mobile app. Advertisements on the app provide additional revenue.
What Rikulat has to offer is unique in the region. “We’re like a Bloomberg terminal that helps companies in the agriculture sector track and predict crop productivity,” said Unahalekaka.
The expansion of Rickle’s business model has attracted the attention of investors. In August last year, the firm raised $2 million in a pre-series one round, bringing its total seed funding to $5 million. The company had planned to spend the fresh capital expanding and expanding into neighboring countries, including Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia, but travel restrictions brought on by COVID-19 put a dent in those plans.
Ricklett decided to focus on Pakistan and Thailand, where there is still room to grow, Unahalekaka said. “The agriculture sector in Thailand is huge, and we only take 5% of the market share. This means that the mobile platform we have built will solve the problems of almost half of the country’s population, so we have a huge growth potential.
The company saw 500% growth last year, although Unahalekaka did not disclose the amount of revenue.
In the near term, Ricult expects to close a $5 million funding round in the first quarter of 2022, which could take the company to new locations in Southeast Asia. “We hope to grow our farming community to 3 million in the next three years and in the meantime expand to neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam. Our vision is to use our technology to uplift the farming community in ASEAN,” said Unahalekaka.
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where KrASIA writers talk to its founders. Technology companies in South and Southeast Asia.