SEATTLE — Uber and farming are not two things that usually go together, but a startup wants to combine the two in an effort to boost the productivity of agriculture in India.
In 2014, the father-son pair Rohtash and Adwitiya Mal founded EM3 AgriServices. The company operates on a pay-per-use business model, also referred to as farming-as-a-service (FAAS). Rather than having to buy farm equipment, farmers can rent them from EM3, which also supplies trained personnel to operate the machinery on site.
The concept of EM3 is similar to Uber’s ridesharing, which Rohtash said was his inspiration. By “Uberizing” the agriculture sector, he believes EM3 can “bring relevant global technologies and equipment to India and make them accessible and affordable to Indian farmers.”
In an article published in YourStory in June 2015, Kartik Srivatsa, co-founder of Aspada Investments, lamented that India ranks among the world’s least productive countries in agriculture. Despite India’s slow production, the country has the second-largest arable land area in the world, only behind the United States.
One reason for the country’s slow production is that agriculture in India is mostly small-scale – 77 million households, which make up 85 percent of Indian farmers, have less than five acres of land. These people lack the capital needed to introduce new technology on their farms.
This issue is exactly what EM3 AgriServices seeks to address. Fortunately, for Rohtash and Adwitiya, Aspada decided to invest 200 million rupees (equivalent to $3.3 million) in EM3 in 2015.
Ravi Beri, a researcher at farm equipment supplier Fieldking, expects demand for FAAS to grow. In a 2016 interview with India’s Economic Times, Beri said, “EM3’s pay-per-use is timely. For farmers, owning a tractor is just not sustainable.”
In just two short years, EM3 has built 10 service centers called Samadhan, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, with a staff of 150. The company also secured a partnership with McCain Foods, a multinational company based in Canada and the world’s largest supplier of frozen French fries.
Among EM3’s arsenal of high-tech machinery is the laser-leveling machine. According to Rohtash, it can survey an acre of land in 35 minutes, previously a two-day job, and reduces water usage by up to 30 percent. The power harrow, another one of EM3’s offerings, raises crop yield by close to 20 percent, because it can break up soil more finely than a worker can.
In the next two years, EM3 plans to expand into the neighboring states of Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, among others, while also bringing the number of staff up to 1,500. It is Rohtash and Adwitiya Mal’s hope that the company will grow to provide more services for farmers and help agriculture in India reach its full potential.
– Philip Katz