Those who feed us, need us.
Smallholders farmers in developing countries face an immense burden of economic exclusion. They have traditionally lacked access to the critical resources needed to grow a business and prosper, including capital, information about improved on-farm techniques, data capabilities that increase resilience in the face of external shocks, and market information to improve bargaining power. As a result, their on-farm yields are half those in the developed world, they are the most vulnerable to changing economic and climatic conditions, and they report feeling unable to get ahead of the market and are thus trapped in an endless cycle of poverty. Access to capital would help to break this cycle, but there are immense asymmetries there as well. In Pakistan, there are 13.2 million smallholder farmers with less than five hectares of land, but with a credit demand of approximately $7.5 billion. The supply is only $2.7 billion - the deficit is covered by informal money lenders who extort farmers unable to participate in the formal lending system due to lack of collateral. The problem is similar in Thailand, where one-third of the population are farmers, but they are among the poorest in the country and there is little incentive for workers to remain in, or to join, the agricultural industry. At the same time, the global population continues to rise, putting increased pressure on the food system.
Ricult is using cutting-edge technology to balance this equation, providing digital solutions that make agriculture more profitable. We are an integrated digital platform that provides poor smallholder farmers with access to farm inputs on simple and affordable credit terms, generates agronomic insights, and makes connections to end buyers, all through mobile phones. Ricult’s credit scoring algorithms, rooted in machine learning, use alternative data sources, such as social reputation and mobile use behavior, combined with satellite imagery, weather, and soil analytics to fairly and accurately assess a farmer’s risk-level. Banks can accurately score and price credit, increasing their willingness to lend and decreasing the risk of default. The same robust data gives insights to key farming factors such as potential crop yield, pest attack prevention, proper fertilization, key harvesting time, and optimal crop rotation. Our data also helps other supply chain actors, such as input suppliers and food processors, to accurately target their sales and sourcing, pointing them to the most fruitful regions of production and allowing them the ability to enter contracts. This predictability helps everyone in the chain to plan and grow their operations, creating employment along the way.
Ricult will transform the status quo, closing the information gap so that all players in the sector can make evidence-based decisions that improve their economic outcomes. Our platform is affordable and accessible to all, and removes the binds currently constraining prosperity in the agriculture sector.
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Cambridge, MA, USA
The dimensions of the Challenge our solution addresses:
What makes our solution innovative:
Ricult has the only closed loop model in agriculture, providing an end-to-end integrated digital platform without a contract farming approach. We also offer the only technology-based solution using machine learning and predictive analytics to solve agricultural challenges in developing countries. While there are many companies which focus on one part of the value chain, there is no single, integrated digital platform that uses cutting-edge technology to provide such a full range of services to farmers. Our credit-scoring algorithms disrupt the financial services industry by breaking the mold of risk assessment, ensuring that smallholder farmers are included in the financial system.
How technology is integral to our solution:
Ricult is entirely based in technology. We leverage it to improve outcomes for farmers and to create employment throughout the agriculture sector. Through our digital platform, farmers are empowered with information that lets them make the best on-farm decisions and the most profitable sales in the market. We empower input suppliers and food processors to be more efficient and effective and we help banks, providing the algorithms that let them be more accurate and fair in their lending practices. We bring the forefront of global technology and adapt it for those who stand to realize the most impact.
Our solution goals over the next 12 months:
We strive to be the trusted end-to-end data solution for all agriculture supply chain actors in emerging markets. Over the next year, we plan to continue to scale and increase market share in our beachhead markets, Pakistan and Thailand, reaching 150,000 and 200,000 farmers, respectively. We will continue to create impactful partnerships with farmers, telecoms, financial institutions, input suppliers, and food processors in these markets to not only grow their businesses and create employment, but also to generate a powerful data set that meets the needs of our stakeholders and can be replicated in new markets.
Our vision over the next three to five years to grow and scale our solution to affect the lives of more people:
Ricult’s vision is to become the Google/ebay/Kiva of the agriculture industry in developing countries, helping millions of farmers to improve their lives. Over the next three to five years, we will reach 25 million farmers in our beachhead markets alone, and we will expand to new markets where our services will be life-changing. With this level of reach, our predictive analytics will be unparalleled in the industry. This will realize our ultimate vision to be an agricultural data company, providing the tools and information that corrects the market asymmetries inherent to the agricultural system.
Our promotional video:
The key characteristics of the populations who will benefit from our solution in the next 12 months:
The regions where we will be operating in the next 12 months:
How we will reach and retain our customers or beneficiaries:
We bring our local knowledge and networks to bear when scaling our technology to reach beneficiaries. Our solution is deployed via mobile application to farmers and other stakeholders, who will access it through technology that they already possess. We bring the right leverage to include disadvantaged farmers and other vulnerable agriculture supply chain actors in the digital economy. Farmers and other partners will be drawn to our offering, as it opens a new world of access to resources, and the positive results on their bottom lines across the chain, will ensure continued participation over time.
How many people we are currently serving with our solution:
In our first two years in Pakistan, over 2,200 smallholder farmers have benefited from our platform, with over $220,000 in loans disbursed, with a 100% repayment rate. Farmer operating costs decreased by 30%, yield increased by 20%, and revenue increased by 18% from direct sales to end consumers, resulting in average income increases of 28% per crop cycle. In Thailand, we have over 500 farmers using our product on a daily basis. For these farmers, we increased incomes by over 50% through a combination of reduced input cost and increased yield.
How many people we will be serving with our solution in the 12 months and the next 3 years:
In the next year, we expect to reach all of our wait-listed smallholder farm customers - 1 million in Pakistan and 10,000 in Thailand. As we keep improving our machine learning algorithm, we aim to close the yield gap that smallholder farmers face and increase their income by over 100%. We will also strengthen and build our institutional partnerships, bringing up to 20 financial institutions, 50 food processors, and 25 input suppliers in our sphere. For these customers, our data analytics will reduce their risk, focus their operations, and improve their bottom lines to grow their businesses.
How our solution team is organized:
How many people work on our solution team:
How many years we have been working on our solution:
The skills our solution team has that will enable us to attract the different resources needed to succeed and make an impact:
We are MIT-trained scientists and business experts with deep knowledge of our operating markets, perfectly balanced in core competencies to succeed in our mission. Our founders hold strong networks in our beachhead markets and are passionate about bringing home our cutting-edge solutions. Usman has 15 yrs in telecom, mobile banking, and mobile agriculture in Pakistan while Aukrit comes from a family of Thai farmers and has a Masters in System Design & Management. The remainder of the team brings expertise in data capabilities, rounding out the team to provide confidence of our success to resource providers and customers alike.
Our revenue model:
In our early stages, Ricult relies on investor and donor funding to maintain operations, and we’ve just completed a $1.85 million seed round. Our revenue model comes from monetization of the insightful rural agricultural data that we generate through our machine learning algorithm. This is a rich and in-depth valuable data set that creates value for various stakeholders across the agricultural value chain. We help banks to make faster credit decisions, for which we charge 0.5% of the loan size, with a small mark-up for the farmers as well. Supply chain partners must also pay a fee, in the form of commission for input suppliers and a platform fee for processors. We help farmers to increase productivity and reduce cost, a benefit for which we charge a nominal fee. Overall, these combined markets leaves billions untapped, allowing immense potential for Ricult’s sustained growth.
Why we are applying to Solve:
Ricult is looking to develop our thinking and deepen our networks within a more international community, with a diversity of thought that will help us to further refine our offering. We are applying to Solve to tap into this broader scope of thought and to work with world-class mentors and innovators who will have valuable insights that will help us to effectively tell our story and successfully scale.
The key barriers for our solution:
As with anyone working in agriculture, gaining trust from farmers can be a hurdle, but it is especially so when you are asking them to incorporate data and digital tools into their traditional methods. They are typically risk averse, so there is a considerable trust-building and relationship management phase that Ricult must succeed in to acquire customers. Our local presence helps, but working with experts in the Solve network will ensure we are adequately capturing, quantifying, and sharing that story of impact among our customer base, so that we can more quickly and more completely earn their trust.
The types of connections and partnerships we would be most interested in if we became Solvers:
- Usman Javaid Founder and CEO, Ricult, Inc.