Global agrochemical major UPL is expanding its footprint in the Indian agriservices market. UPL, which started offering spraying as a service to farmers a couple of years ago, has now set up a separate entity, Nurture.Farm. It will leverage digital technologies to offer a gamut of services for the entire agri-value chain, ranging from pre-sowing to post-harvest market linkages.

An investment of $350 million is planned over the next three to four years in developing technology-driven solutions for farmers and taking them to markets, both in India and overseas.

“The idea of Nurture.Farm is to enable the farmer be more resilient and help him transition from being a subsistence farmer to be more profitable,” Jai Shroff, Global CEO, UPL Ltd, told BusinessLine.

Challenges faced by farmers

The challenges faced by farmers are on the rise. Apart from rising labour shortage and increasing wages, they face the risks of weather vagaries, which are hurting their incomes, making farming unsustainable.

“What we tell thefarmer is ‘join our programme, and we will guarantee an outcome’,” said Shroff, adding that Nurture.Farm’s interventions are aimed at reducing production costs and covering the risks while increasing productivity and yields.

Nurture.Farm has set up a team of 230 in Bengaluru, where the farm solutions are being developed leveraging technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Such solutions are piloted and demonstrated at a farm/innovation lab near Bengaluru.

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The company has, so far, invested $50 million in setting up the operations and building the digital platform, which it has done in house. “We plan to invest about $300 million over the next 3-4 years in scaling the operations,” said Dhruv Sawhney, Chief Operating Officer, Nurture.Farm.

Through the Nurture.Farm app, farmers can purchase inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, book a service for operations such as soil testing, sowing, spraying and harvesting, and seek crop protection advisory to tackle any pests and diseases, among others. “Like the way one books a Ola or Uber, farmers can now swipe a spray service through Nurture app,” said Sawhney.

Also, the company plansto facilitate access to credit and insurance to the farmers on its platform through partnerships. “We are building a multi-category and multi-brand portfolio of inputs. We are onboarding 23 brands of agri inputs, including farm equipment, cattle feeds, seeds and agro chemicals,” said Sawhney.


Dhruv Sawhney, COO, Nurture.Farm


For the post-harvest processing and market linkages, Nurture.Farm is exploring various partnerships to bring in the right solution sets using IoT and warehousing technology. “The biggest enabler for farmers is to be able to sell at the right price and right time. We want to rebalance that equation significantly,” said Sawhney.

Job creation

To help farmers onboard its digital platform, Nurture.Farm is relying on the local youth and women, besides leveraging the network of around 50,000 retailers across the country. The company is also working with some Farmer Producer Organisations to deliver its services. Going forward, the youth will also be trained to offer services such as soil testing and creating awareness about the sustainable farm practices among farmers, said Sawhney.

“We are trying to replicate the gig economy in the rural set up,” said Sawhney, adding that Nurture.Farm’s interventions has already created some 10,000 jobs across eight States where it has started operations.

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Sawhney believes that the potential to create rural jobs could run into couple of lakhs in the next three to five years as the company expands its operations and introduces more services.

Shroff said the company’s initiatives have evoked good response from the areas in Haryana where it operates, and that the local job creation would help in preventing rural migration.

Four-fold growth

Nurture.Farm has started operations in nine States – Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh – and has already enrolled over a million farmers on its platform covering around 1.8 million acres. The company is eyeing more than four-fold growth this year with its solutions to be deployed in over six million acres, said Sawhney. While the on-boarding on to Nurture’s digital platform is free, the farmer will be charged for the services availed. The services are priced competitively to cover costs and enable some savings to farmers compared to the market, he said.

In India, the agri-services market is largely unorganised and evolving as farm mechanisation picks up and adoption of digital services is on the rise, aided by the spread of mobile network connectivity. The emerging digital farming landscape in India is largely dominated by agri-tech start-ups that are offering a range of precision farming services, leveraging technologies such as remote sensing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, among others.

The entry of corporates in agri-services increases the potential for collaboration with start-up eco-system for diversifying in newer areas such as tagging of farms, pest detection and soil testing among others, said Hemendra Mathur, an agri-tech investor.

Overseas markets

UPL plans to take the Nurture.Farm model and solutions to other geographies where it operates. “We are already actively looking at Australian market, South Africa., Brazil and the US market, where we see potential to leverage some or part of all the solutions developed. However, the big focus will be on India, home of small holding farmers,” said Sawhney.

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UPL, which recently set up a new business unit for Natural Plant Protection, expects to leverage Nurture.Farm to promote its bio solutions portfolio in the Indian market. Bio solutions account for around 7 per cent of UPL’s revenues.

For the June quarter, UPL reported a 23 per cent increase in net profit at ₹678 crore over the same period last year. Revenues were up 9 per cent at ₹8,515 crore, led by volume growth and price increase. Shares of UPL were trading marginally higher around ₹783 on the bourses on Friday morning.