There are 100 million small- and medium-sized farmers throughout India whose livelihood depends on the output from their few acres of land. Most of them earn the equivalent of $50 – $100 per month if they’re lucky. With limited resources, they are particularly vulnerable to challenges posed by pests, variations in weather, and availability of water. A good harvest in one season can be followed by a crop failure resulting in little or no income. This unpredictability of earnings is one of the biggest challenges that small farmers in India face, and is a key cause of keeping them battling poverty.
Helping small farmers generate a consistent income is central to the mission of Kheyti (“KAY-tee”), a company based in India. Kheyti’s President and one of its co-founders, Sathya Raghu Mokkapati, says that when he and the company’s other founders began to consider ways to improve predictability for small farmers in India, “the short answer was there was nothing available that was affordable. The only realistic solution seemed (to be) greenhouses but they were really expensive.”
The company’s four co-founders spent months talking with dozens of small farmers in India to learn about their challenges and needs. This led them to design, test, and bring to market an inexpensive greenhouse that saves water, increases yields, and helps farmers achieve consistent earnings — a product they call Greenhouse in a Box.
The Kheyti greenhouse is 20 meters by 20 meters and is covered with netting. The 400 square meter greenhouse takes up a small part of a small farmer’s land. (A small farmer is defined as having less than 2 hectares, or 5 acres of land). A drip irrigation system is also installed. The company began with a proof-of-concept phase with 300 farmers in Hyderabad, which allowed them to quantify the impact of the greenhouse. They found that by utilizing their greenhouse, farmers are able to use “90% less water and grow 7 times more food.” These dramatic improvements are what give Kheyti’s small farmers the ability to achieve a consistent income.
Kheyti provides installation of the greenhouse and initial training for the farmers. Ongoing advisory services are provided in a hybrid model, with consultations or trouble-shooting provided in person or virtually. They also offer seeds and fertilizer to those farmers who need them, but there are no ongoing contracts or purchase requirements. They have also focused on training their advisors to provide guidance on growing 14 staple crops — such as tomatoes, cabbage, chili peppers, and cucumbers.
There are now 1,000 farmers in six Indian states who are utilizing the Greenhouse in a Box.
Initially, the company’s model included partnerships with lenders who could provide farmers with financing to purchase the greenhouse. However, Sathya states that they have been able to reduce the cost of the greenhouse from the equivalent of $4,200 to $1,000, which he states has eliminated the need for most farmers to access financing. Going forward, Sathya reports that they plan to simplify the greenhouse design even further so that it can be installed with one Kheyti technician, a farmer, and two or three other people — a smaller team than is currently required.
Founded in 2016, Kheyti has won several awards, including the Acumen Emerging Leaders Award, Kellogg Social Entrepreneurship Award, and the Common Bond Social Impact award, among others. To date, Sathya states that the company has been “bootstrapped and soft-capital funded”, but that venture funding is something they’re working on.
Kheyti began its expansion phase in April 2022. There are now 1,000 farmers in six Indian states who are utilizing the Greenhouse in a Box. While Sathya says that they “feel more confident of scaling” now — and are anticipating four to five times year-on-year growth going forward — they do face two primary challenges. The first is anticipating and managing exponential growth. They’ve found in each new region there are some early adopters, with significant growth in customers coming after that via word of mouth. Sathya says that it’s important for them to “really figure out more clearly the adoption curve for our model.”
Keythi hopes to have 100,000 Indian farmers using their greenhouse in five years.
The second challenge Kheyti faces is the consistent delivery of service — particularly advisory services. Summarizing the challenge, Sathya says, serving “multiple geographies, across multiple crops, across multiple seasons (means) there are a large number of variables that we need to consistently get right.”
As Sathya stated in a TED talk in early 2022, “Climate risk is the root cause that causes farming to be unpredictable and unviable.” In five years, Keythi hopes to have 100,000 Indian farmers using their greenhouse — with continued, exponential growth beyond that. At the same time, their goal is to share Kheyti’s technology with small farmers in other regions of the world who face similar challenges. They are eager to partner with companies that work with farmers, and hope that these collaborations will allow them to expand Kheyti’s impact outside India.
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