Krishi Janani: Stepping Out Into the Great Unknown

Krishi Janani: Ag Tech Network

Krishi Janani: Ag Tech Network

So…Appropriate IT is working on a new sustainable agriculture technology platform – Krishi Janani. We have been at it for a while now, launching a partially working prototype earlier this year. Before I go into the ‘Great Unknown’ parts of the story, a quick summary:

Krishi Janani is an ag tech network (online platform + young women-led rural ag tech centers) enabling organic and sustainable farming in India. It provides farmers localized information, knowledge network and market access as an affordable subscription service.

Krishi Janani’s subscription service targets 118 million cultivators in India, with a special focus on smallholders and women farmers. The two-tiered subscription model – a free basic service and a paid premium service – is the conduit for trusted information on organic agriculture.

This is Appropriate IT’s very own moonshot, aiming for:

transformative global impact by building social capital, finding micro solutions for complex global crises such as climate change and creating economic wealth in depressed rural economies.

Nope, we don’t believe in taking small steps at all… ;-)

Jokes aside, we are serious about working our hearts, minds, and souls to get the outcome and impact we are aiming for. And, here is how:

Philanthropic capital will build out the ag tech network, establish a free + premium subscription model and generate revenue streams. Lean Startup approaches of hypotheses testing and validated learning will iterate a model that is commercially profitable, fits the Indian context and creates a sustainable agroecology.

If all that has captured your interest, here is Krishi Janani’s Executive Summary (as of May 22, 2015).

We are adopting Eric Ries’ Lean Startup approach (with a grateful nod to Steve Blank’s Customer Development Methodology) as we set out to systematically build a network, finalize the services, make a profit, expand, and create social impact. Lean Startup is a Silicon Valley startup terminology, not typically found in international development circles. However, Eric Ries has given a great framework for building a learning organization, which is a typical international development goal. We are utilizing the build-measure-learn feedback loop to build out the minimum viable product (MVP) and iterate constantly. In essence, Krishi Janani will be one continuous experiment.

The validity of this approach has already been brought home to us during the prototyping stage. The subscription fee is a good example. We started out with the idea that it will be a monthly fee that farmers (Krishi Janani’s “customers”) will pay. When we brainstormed this idea with the customers/farmers, we heard a vehement NO! The reason? It will be hard for farmers to pay a monthly fee, especially in the months when finances may be tight. One of our customers/farmers even came up with an alternate idea – switch to an annual subscription fee which is collected right after the harvest season. Imagine how much effort and time this approach has saved Krishi Janani already!

The journey is just beginning. A ‘Great Unknown’ lies in front of us. We are starting out with many, many questions. Will Krishi Janani’s model work? Will farmers be willing to pay a subscription fee? Will young women become digital intermediaries and take the lead in fostering rural ag tech networks? Will the subscription fee and services lead to profitability? At the end of it all, will we be able to create a thriving and profitable social enterprise that is co-created and co-owned by farmers and local communities along with foundations and impact investors? We do not know the answers to any of these. Yet! :)

Krishi Janani does have a few hypotheses to begin with. We will be iterating on those and learning the answers as we go. However, here is a tricky problem – will it be possible to find funding with proposals that say “there are a lot of things that we are not sure about; we will test, tweak, and iterate to find the answers and build a transformative solution”? Obviously, we believe all of this is possible. Otherwise I would not be writing this blog post.

In the spirit of learning, we also plan to share as much as possible (both the ups AND the downs) with the world through this blog. So, do keep checking this space often.

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