Transforming Agriculture Through Financial Inclusion and Technology
by Seven Peaks on Jan 25, 2024 5:55:49 PM
Renier Bueno, a Colombian product leader now residing in Thailand, brings over a decade of experience to the forefront of digital innovation for a variety of industries ranging from startups to large corporations. Renier recently completed his tenure as Global Head of Product at Ricult – a transformative AgriTech startup whose mission is to enhance opportunities and provide value to all major stakeholders in its ecosystem, including farmers, distributors (mills) and banks. With a keen focus on helping startups and corporations navigate the complexities of product development, Renier has played a pivotal role in bringing digital products to life in both Europe and Asia. We caught up with Renier to learn more about his personal endeavor to make a lasting impact to improve the human condition, and how his role at Ricult was able to provide this opportunity.
I completed my studies in Spain, before gaining experience in digital products in a wide variety of industries from startups to airlines. I then joined Pomelo Fashion and worked on building their loyalty program, which strategically helped the company expand their marketing efforts beyond mega-campaigns, reduce customer acquisition cost (CAC), and achieve higher user retention - contributing to growth, focusing on the growth of the app and the business. Then I worked for Central (Central Tech, which is Central’s company that builds technology for their retail group), on projects developing their multi-channel strategy, retail, and logistics. They invested a lot of resources in order to lead the omni-channel experience for its retail group. Central needed more robust technology to connect their business and warehouses, operations, websites and apps. We were implementing the order allocation and real-time inventory systems, which allowed Central and their users to keep track of each item between their different warehouses, stores and logistic partners. Central wanted to enable a customer to order something to the store without buying it - before physically visiting the store and trying the product out. Key work that was necessary to establish the complete digital experience included many components, including order allocations and monitoring activity impact on business finances, to start.
Then I joined Ricult, which was a big change for me coming from e-commerce. Ricult's core products, the Farmer App (Baimai) and Agent App (which comprises the data collection component and RicultX, the data visualization component), utilize machine learning models that predict crop yields, focusing on crops such as cassava, sugar cane, rice, eucalyptus and sweet corn. The software provides geo-forecasted supply predictions, empowering farmers, food processors, and traders to negotiate better contracts, prepare storage, and mitigate risks associated with unpredictable factors like floods and adverse weather conditions. Optimizing farming metrics can increase yield by 15-20%. Overall, my mission was to build a cohesive product vision for Ricult's suite of products, and:
“Bring technology closer to the Asian agriculture value chain, with the goal of improving the livelihood of small farm holders.”
Ricult's Software as a Service (SaaS) products complete a comprehensive ecosystem, catering to mills, contract farming, agents and financial institutions. By providing predictive models, farmers and food processors can secure more favorable contracts, plan storage efficiently, and navigate the complexities of the agricultural supply chain. Ricult emphasizes the transformative power of digital solutions, enabling farmers to optimize metrics, increase yields, and gain financial literacy through educational features.
Bridging the Financial Gap for Farmers
Recognizing the gap between financial institutions (FIs) and farmers, Ricult has pioneered a fintech solution that adds value to all key stakeholders in their ecosystem. We leveraged millions of data points, and developed a "farming score" that builds trust among banks. We can detect the risk of default, and work with the farmers to fix problems as soon as possible, which is of great value to the banks. This data-driven approach not only helps detect risks of default but also enables proactive problem-solving, adding significant value to financial institutions. The result is a win-win product-market fit: optimized farming metrics, increased yields, and improved financial literacy for farmers.
“We help farmers gain and maintain a sustainable line of credit for growth and working capital.”
We’ve completed pilots with leading banks in Thailand, and one of the driven key performance indicators (KPIs) is to reduce non-performing loans (NPLs) to under 3%. We can negotiate a small part of the interest rate from the banks as part of our revenue model. There is also a model called input finance, which are strategic partnerships with input providers such as seeds, fertilizers, hormones and other resources that ensure farmers can select from a range of partners and use the money they borrowed on a good selection of supplies at the best price that the market offers.
Social Impact at the Core
My work with Ricult extends beyond financial inclusion. Recognizing the vulnerability of farmers in the agricultural chain, the company is on a mission to empower them. It stresses the importance of addressing not only financial inclusion through access to improved financial products and technology, but also the broader issue of farmers living on the edge of poverty.
A very logical step is that FinTech, in every facet of life, becomes more oriented towards the consumer space - we want to leverage the data we have to provide FinTech advantages to the supplier side. The banks are willing to expand their products into agriculture, but they haven’t been able to create a model that is sustainable for them.
“Crops traditionally can take months or even years to get the harvest, and during that time many things can happen that are risk factors.”
Sometimes farmers are unable to decide who to best sell their crops to. In reality, they might sell it to the mill or middleman that provides them with machinery or transportation, however, these mills are unlikely to provide the best prices. This is how it works, and farmers are dependent on many external factors if they aren’t able to execute a complete business model. Smaller farmers have many short-term problems that are challenges, and they have to cover their basic necessities and immediate needs before they can even think about longer-term financial planning.
“Digital penetration will take time in the agricultural space.”
It’s part of the transition, which will take time, and we will need greater awareness for some of the digital products to be able to take hold or reach critical mass. The journey is not without its challenges. In developing countries, where social problems intertwine with the intricacies of the value chain, anyone seeking to bring innovation through AgriTech faces hurdles in implementing its vision. Solving these problems necessitates awareness, empathy and understanding of the day-to-day struggles faced by farmers.
“It’s not only about the economic potential, but also the possibility to change a lot of wider problems such as food security.”
Working with Ricult exemplified a holistic approach to agricultural transformation that combines technological innovation with a deep understanding of the challenges faced by the farming community. Beyond economic potential, projects like Ricult are driving change in wider societal issues, contributing to food security, and uplifting farmers from poverty. As technology continues to weave its way into the agricultural fabric, Ricult stands as a beacon, demonstrating that true AgriTech success lies in an unwavering commitment to understanding and addressing the real problems faced by farmers.
Looking to the Future
While the potential in AgriTech is vast, there are still many barriers in developing countries - from social problems to the long-established dynamics of the value chain which lacks connectivity and infrastructure, or tech and financial literacy – it’s not as easy as people who just say the word “AgriTech” may think. There is a lot of work to be done! You need to spend time in the field, talk with the farmers who are your core consumers, understand the complexities of their communities, spend days with farmers to really get to what is needed and what you can do to help solve their pain points. It’s easy to forget about what the farmer’s struggles are, when you are taking meetings to partner with banks and big businesses. A potential hazard surfaces in how easy it is to unbalance the relationship, and in order to adequately serve the interests of multiple stakeholders – you have to keep in mind what your real goal is: helping farmers get their way out of poverty.
In the ever-evolving landscape of product development, one company is pioneering a mission that goes beyond profitability, focusing on transforming the lives of farmers in developing countries. At Ricult, a commitment to financial inclusion for farmers and leveraging technology to achieve this goal is at the core of their vision.
Former Global Head of Product at Ricult
With over 10 years of experience as a product manager, Renier has played a pivotal role in bringing digital products to life in both Europe and Asia. His passion lies in scaling new businesses, and his collaborative approach with entrepreneurs globally has been instrumental in shaping and implementing robust product visions. Renier's expertise lies not just in ideation but in strategically guiding ideas from zero to one, embodying a commitment to driving innovation and success in the dynamic world of technology.