Innovator Spotlight: SourceTrace
Data-driven digital Innovations for the agriculture and allied sectors
SourceTrace is a global company that provides data-driven digital innovations for the agriculture and allied sectors, addressing the multiple challenges that the sector is facing. The first is the situation of the smallholder farmers, who are struggling to make ends meet. The 500 million smallholder farmers of the world sustain a population of 2 billion with their meagre earnings. The second is climate change, leading to erratic and frequent weather events, resulting in crop loss. The third is shrinking arable land, on which food for the rising global population, estimated to touch 9 billion by 2050, has to be farmed. The only solution is to produce more with less, and here, digital innovations can play a key role. For example, farm management solutions help in digitizing the entire farming operations by capturing data digitally, across remote and scattered multiple locations, and making it available in near-real time, and providing analytics that enables the management to make sound data-driven decisions.
To offer the benefit of digital applications at scale, SourceTrace engages with farmers through aggregating agencies such as farmer cooperatives, farmer producer organisations, agribusinesses, financial institutions and Govt. or development agencies. Working on a SaaS (Software as a Service) model has proved to be a boon in digitizing the agriculture value chain, while at the same time making it accessible and affordable to the smallest players in the agriculture ecosystem. For example, SourceTrace is able to provide their platform to the smallest cooperatives having 400 marginal tribal farmers in Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh for small subscription fee that this organization is able to afford.
Coming to how digital innovations actually impact agriculture, SourceTrace’s technology platform DATAGREEN hosts a set of eight solutions such as farm management, farmer advisory services, certification, traceability, supply chain management, monitoring & evaluation, market linkage and financial services. These solutions are backed by technologies like mobile applications, AI/ML, remote sensing and blockchain. The benefits include increased incomes and better livelihoods as a result of increased farm productivity, advisory regarding weather alerts, market prices and pests and diseases to farmers. Farmers get premium pricing, better conditions of work and access to health and education facilities as a result of certification of their produce (for which the software is used). The digital platform provides direct linkage between producers and potential buyers who can source products, resulting in a guaranteed, sustainable market for farmers. Farmers also gain increased access to financial services such as crop loans and crop insurance. Digitization of farmers/farm helps in mitigating the risk of financial institutions. It makes them willing to offer their services to more number of farmers. In terms of environmental sustainability, the solutions help conserve resources such as water, fertilizer and pesticide, leading to reduction in environmental degradation of the farm.
As per customers’ data and analysis, on an average, the deployment of these solutions has helped increase farm productivity by between 10 and 20 per cent. There are live case studies to show that the income of organic palm oil farmers in Sierra Leone is up by 10 per cent as a result of certification. Organic Fairtrade cotton farmers in India are earning Rs.5.8 more per kilo of organic cotton. There is also a social impact as a result - young people no longer need to migrate in search of work, keeping families united. The digital platform provides an interface between the potential buyer and the producer. This way, farmers are able to participate in global markets, and are able to find a guaranteed and sustainable market for their produce. SourceTrace’s solutions have also helped minimize deforestation and child labour in the cocoa growing zones of Ivory Coast, Ghana and Cameroon. Along with these, the impact of the financial services solutions is also equally important – the payment cycle to farmers has been cut from 6 weeks to 2 weeks. By providing timely access to knowledge and information related to agriculture, the solutions help minimize risk. Overall, where ever these solutions were deployed, it has helped foster sustainable farming communities. The other trend that is fast catching up is traceability. Ethically conscious buyers and consumers want to know the provenance of the produce, and here traceability connects the two ends of the supply chain, which is especially useful for food retail chains to win the trust and confidence of end consumers.
Beginning with 5 customers in 2014, SourceTrace now has more than 140 customers with 90 per cent retention rate, one of the best in the industry. Its digital solutions have so far been applied to more than 350 crops, and have impacted more than a million farmers in 28 countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa. SourceTrace is in the process of collaborating with organizations like GSMA association, which would help in integrating digital money with their platform for automation of payments, thus increasing the access to a wider network and helping in easy banking for farmers. Other key collaborations are with ICRISAT and Germany-based Geocledian in remote sensing, AI/ML and big data. On the cards are also some innovative models to predict yields, pest and disease management and crop insurance, as well as partnership with companies that provide technological capacity such as remote sensing and meteorological stations. In a nutshell, SourceTrace is bringing predictability, sustainability, profitability, equitability and traceability to agriculture. The company is well on the path to using digital innovations to revolutionize the global agriculture value chain, with a target to impact 10 million farmers in the next three to five years.
SourceTrace is headed by CEO Venkat Maroju, who took over the company in 2012. SourceTrace is backed up investors such as Gray Ghost Ventures, Soros Economic Development Fund, Serious Change LP, Sorenson Impact Foundation, Schmidt Family Foundation and Impact Assets.
Dr. Venkat Maroju is Chief Executive Officer, SourceTrace Systems - a company that has become a global leader in providing software solutions to agriculture and allied sectors. The use of these technological solutions has made the agriculture value chain more sustainable, transparent and equitable - thus empowering hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers in developing countries.
Venkat has been able to achieve this by combining his core capacities in technological leadership with extensive grassroots-level experience with social enterprises such as microfinance institutions, farmers’ cooperatives, sustainable agriculture, rural supply chain and renewable energy.
Venkat had been invited speak at international conferences such as UN Forum for Business & Human Rights, Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA), ICT4D, TiE StartupCon, Sustainatopia, Agriculture Leadership Summit, Development Dialogue and he also spoke at universities such as MIT, Harvard, Old Dominion University, Brandeis and Osmania University.
Prior to joining SourceTrace, Venkat had founded Factum Ventures, a holding company in India that set up and promoted new business ventures in sustainable agriculture, microfinance and renewable energy. He was also advisor to venture capital firms investing in social enterprises that supported people at the bottom of the pyramid in developing economies.
His earlier experience with technology leadership includes well known global corporations like Bose, where, as Divisional Information Officer, he led the information systems strategy and implementation. He also held a leadership position at ComauPICO (A subsidiary of Fiat).
Venkat holds an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management and was a Sloan Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds a Ph.D. in Engineering from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia and Masters in Engineering from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. His Bachelor’s degree is in Engineering, from Osmania University College of Engineering, Hyderabad.