The UK’s KisanHub — which specializes in squeezing out actionable insights from raw, complex and unwieldy food supply chain data sets — disclosed its £3.4 million Series A funding round to AFN this week, revealing a deal led by Sistema_VC .
Sistema, which has previously invested in European deep tech ventures like Connecterra and TraceAir, were joined by Notion and IQ Capital — two VC firms that previously invested in KisanHub’s two-part seed round.
KisanHub has been creating an ambitious agricultural and supply chain data platform ever since its two co-founders span out of the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge back in 2013. As AFN previously reported, this platform draws upon increasing amounts of big data analytics, cloud computing, and machine learning to gather and crunch data from satellite imagery, weather stations, soil sensors, and other sources. It offers yield predictions, pesticide application monitoring, and other features, which helps sellers manage contracts and supports farmers’ decision-making.
Though KisanHub is by no means the only player in this competitive game of food and farm data crunching, there is vast scope for improving the interoperability and transparency of supply chain data in global food systems. Any seasoned observer of these systems will be quick to note how an astounding and ultimately incalculable amount of food gets misdirected and squandered across the world on its way from farm to fork. That is a grim reality against a backdrop of climate pressures, land shortages and UN evidence showing how the number of hungry people in the world rose to 821 million in 2017 — one in every nine people, according to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018.
While not the sole culprit by any means, the persistence of archaic, opaque, patchy and often incompatible data management of food production and distribution has created setback after setback to anyone hoping for more financially viable and ecologically sustainable farming practices.
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As part of its offering, KisanHub compiles integrated market data and compliance requirements; it provides information and makes recommendations on crop protection products. This can be a useful way of allowing farmers to start making risk-assessed and data verifiable decisions rather than intuitive and pre-emptive ones, says co-founder and CEO Dr Sachin Shende. Farmers, while not KisanHub’s main focus, also use the technology as enterprise partners roll out the software across their networks.
Rather than going direct to farmers, Shende says during a phone interview with AFN, KisanHub’s target customers are agriculture enterprises — agronomists, suppliers, processors, and retailers that own some of their own farmland but work with a network of contract farmers. The company is able to integrate enterprises’ existing software or excel systems, Shende says, to provide a bespoke solution.
Shende is wary of full vertical integration, an approach adopted by some other firms in the space, which he likens to technology companies in the 1980s trying to build computer hardware from scratch, and then do all the software themselves. They later learned, he says, to “think more horizontally.” That is why his company will continue to steer clear of their own sensor designs or manufacturing. “This is a pure platform play,” he says, describing how KisanHub sources data via specialized hardware and imagery partnerships, including one with satellite imagery provider Planet Labs. It also integrates public data. Despite many weather forecast technologies becoming “commoditized,” he says, he believes there is still value in providing precise localized precipitation data and solar radiation data, which he says are “still too granular.”
In a statement outlining his decision to lead the round, Sistema’s Managing Partner Dmitry Filatov said that KisanHub’s algorithms “make the supply chain more reliable and the procurement process predictable.” The supply chain, he added, “is always at seasonal risk, which machine learning helps to reduce. Optimisation of such a complicated process appears to be at a strong demand in agriculture.”
Those seasonal risks can be extreme; as of 2015, KisanHub has an office in Pune, India, and last October it joined the 100+ Accelerator program of global food and beverages giant AB InBev. Part of this partnership with AB Inbev means assisting their Smart Barley team, operating in monsoon and flooding afflicted northern Rajasthan, where technological uptake is still limited. “In this area, there are challenges around connectivity, and even with access to the internet, grower’s lack of exposure to technology would mean difficulty in understanding how to access the information they need to make decisions for their crop,” the company wrote in a blog post earlier this year describing how they had on-boarded over a thousand farmers on behalf of AB InBev in a matter of months: ”Around 60% of the farmers that our team were meeting had an Android smartphone but the remaining 40% were using much more basic mobile phones. For the growers with smartphones — our platform provides an instant gateway to maintain a digital diary of their crop progress and where the SmartBarley R&D team can share videos and articles around the best farming practices. But what about the growers who don’t yet have a smartphone? On the KisanHub platform, AB InBev employees are able to log-in and simply send a text message which is broadcast to as many or as few of their growers as they want. This provides a simple yet effective solution to the problem of contacting multiple growers at once.”
AB InBev Chief Procurement and Sustainability Officer Tony Milikin said in a statement that their partnership had been taken in a bid to meet ambitious new targets in its barley production. “Over the last year, we worked together to implement their technology to improve the sustainable farming practices of thousands of farmers in India, as part of our journey to hit our 2025 Sustainability Goal as well as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”
Back in the UK over the last few months, Burgess Farm Produce and Manor Fresh, two major British suppliers, have recently partnered up with KisanHub for similar reasons of supply chain visibility. “For Manor Fresh, this project is about optimisation of our resources. We review a lot more produce than we buy, due to our customers’ premium quality standards, and KisanHub’s Enterprise Platform tool lets us capture data from across that wide selection of growers and share it with our customers. With the central data source that the platform provides, we will now be able to manipulate and analyse data quickly,” senior technical manager at Manor Fresh Chris Goodliff said in a blog post earlier this month. “Ultimately, it will enable us to link information together, not only transforming the way we interrogate the product but changing the way we make management decisions moving forward. We are all excited to see the results and watch how the solution will develop into other areas of the business.”
Management at KisanHub say the latest investment will be used to continue the development of the platform and implementation of it across multiple geographies for global brands. For now, that mostly means consolidating its position in the UK and India, and to meet the demands of another major global food and beverage company which KisanHub has partnered with, but has so far declined to disclose on record.