Ricult is a fintech startup aiming at helping farmers with small land holdings get access to the capital they need so that they don’t face financial exploitation by landlords in the developing countries. The firm blends the best technology and farming practices in order to achieve this goal.
The startup, which is backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has raised $1.85 million in seed funding in a bid to address the smallholder farmers’ entire value chain through a fintech data platform and marketplace.
Founded in 2015 by a team based in MIT, and led by Usman Javaid, former Director Marketing Telenor, Ricult has embarked on a journey to challenge exploitative agricultural practices in developing countries by providing farm input – seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides – on simple and affordable credit terms while using efficient credit score algorithms and precision analytics to increase the yield manifold.
Usman, a former Business Process Consultant at Nestle, believes that the main reason behind fintech startups’ failure in developing countries is their approach; they only address one facet of the issue by offering credit.
I’m a firm believer that you need to address the entire value chain.
Being a Pakistani and knowing how things work here, Javaid understands how middlemen and loan sharks exploit those who feed the world.
“These middlemen charge exorbitant rates of around 200% per annum, and it’s a very exploitative and abusive relationship that can get very rough and even involves murder if farmers fail to pay them back.”
Ricult is operational in Pakistan and Thailand to date. With its recent funding, the startup is aiming to beef up its share in the market. Ricult’s sponsors include the San Francisco-based accelerator 500 Startups, Wavemakers – a VC working on developing countries, and a Thai corporate.
Earlier, the startup raised $600,000 in seed funding. The Gates Foundation’s contribution in this was $100,000.
With a Series A Round planned in June next year, Ricult promises to allow farmers to take charge of their lives year after year.
Ricult – The Answer to Smallholder Farmers’ Challenges
Ricult offers the same solutions as middlemen. However, Ricult says that its process is transparent and its services can be availed at extremely affordable prices.
Registering with Ricult is easy. Farmers can access the platform using any type of phone. While registering, Ricult accesses the farmer’s creditworthiness using credit scoring algorithms and predictive psychometric tools.
Using geospatial technology including Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS), as well as soil mechanics and weather studies, Ricult proposes farm inputs looking at the land characteristics. Spatial variations in crops and soil conditions are mapped using Machine Learning algorithms in a bid to provide precise inputs for increased yields.
Offering actionable agronomic data and insights, Ricult ensures that the farmers stay active even after they get the credit or loan. For instance, pest attacks and weather forecasts play a vital role in the timely action.
Ricult not just restricts to informing farmers about optimal sowing times and weather forecasts, but after harvest, the startup connects them with buyers and mills who pay a processing fee to get access to the selling farmers. Ricult has reduced the inputs cost three-times as compared to what the farmers usually pay.
Ricult pays the farmers within 2 days, a marked improvement in payment times in developing markets.
“If you analyze the whole situation, the root cause for farmers’ inability to access capital or have enough of it at sowing time is that he doesn’t get paid on time when he sells his crop and the middlemen will stagger payment over many months by design, to force the farmer to go back to him for next cycle and that keeps him trapped.”
Javaid believes that their supply-chain approach is the first of its kind and it bodes well for his company as well as the farmers of the developing countries.