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INSIGHTS / INTERVIEWS

Yudha Kartohadiprodjo wants to empower Indonesian farmers

Indonesia · Sep 13, 2018· By Putu Agung Wija Putera

Photo by Kaikoro/Shutterstock.com

His social media startup Karsa arms farmers with better knowledge and information sharing

If you asked the average Indonesian what a farmer does, they would answer “bercocok tanam” (“to plant crops”). Yudha Kartohadiprodjo, co-founder of the farming social network Karsa, thinks the term oversimplifies just how much farmers have to do and know to be successful.

 

“A farmer needs to understand weather. They have to know about biology, hydrology, chemicals,” explains Yudha. “And, at the end of the day, they have to be traders.”

 

As a result, farmers have a real need for accurate, timely information. They gather online on Facebook and other social networks, where they ask each other questions and share their own knowledge. These online farming networks became the inspiration for Karsa.

 

From Facebook to Karsa

Karsa traces its beginnings to Yudha’s longtime friend, Ming Alihan, an agriculture and agrichemical businessman who wanted to reach out to his customers through social media. “One of his employees has a journalistic background. They decided to create Facebook pages related to agriculture,” says Yudha.

 

When these Facebook pages exploded in popularity, Ming approached Yudha, a former editor at Femina Media Group, to see what they could do with this opportunity.

 

After conducting a survey on the needs of Indonesian farmers, Yudha and Ming decided to develop Karsa, a dedicated social network and information platform for farmers. They brought together five professors from Institut Pertanian Bogor (Bogor Institute of Agriculture) and Gadjah Mada University as advisors, as well as a team of programmers led by a Facebook alumnus.

 

Facebook remains an important part of Karsa’s strategy. According to Yudha, Karsa is one of the few Indonesian companies supported by Facebook through its FbStart initiative. “We’ve also been feeding Facebook pages with our content, with the hope that we can get some traffic back. So there’s a symbiotic relationship between us and Facebook,” says Yudha.

 

Unique features

Karsa has features that these Facebook pages don’t, and these features attracts users to Karsa specifically. Besides Karsa’s forum, Yudha says its news feed and “harga pasar” (“market price”) features are user favorites. “With Harga Pasar, farmers can find current market prices and make decisions like when to sell their produce,” explains Yudha. “It’s in the nature of farming to trade.”

 

The Department of Industry and the Department of Home Affairs are currently the sources of Karsa’s price information. However, Yudha says that this doesn’t preclude the possibility of crowdsourcing the information. “Right now we’re still depending on the government for this kind of data. That’s great, the government will always be the index. But it would be more awesome if we have, like, five thousand farmers reporting the prices in an area.”

 

As for the news feed, Karsa provides quick and timely information about what’s happening in the farmer’s area. On at least one occasion, Karsa’s users caught wind of a pest infestation before it was reported by major media platforms.

 

“One time, farmers from a certain area were looking closely and intently at a specific type of pest. They were also looking for the right type of insecticides for it,” recounts Yudha. “A week later, we saw a news report about that specific area, saying there was an infestation.”

 

Yudha sees this as a valuable source of data, both for the government and for corporate players such as agrichemical manufacturers. “Imagine if I can inform the government and tell them to send their people, or tell insecticide manufacturers that an infestation is happening and farmers need their products.”

 

To that end, Karsa has been working with CropLife, a non-government organization formed by agrichemical manufacturers, to find out about farmers’ needs in specific areas and to teach farmers about better agricultural practices.

 

For-profit, with social impact

Yudha considers Karsa a “for-profit company with a big social impact.” The company, which is still self-financed, earns revenue through advertising and platform-related activities. For example, agritech or agrichemical companies advertise new seeds and other products on Karsa’s platform or at Karsa-hosted events.

 

However, Yudha says Karsa is also open to working with non-agritech companies. “Maybe a detergent company wants to reach customers in rural areas. They could do it through the newspapers, but who reads newspapers these days? We can be an advertising avenue, because [people who use our app] trust the price info we put up.”

 

When asked about Karsa’s plans for the future, Yudha says he wants Karsa to be the “center of the universe” for Indonesia’s agricultural economy. He believes that Karsa can use smartphones to empower farmers in Indonesia, similar to how Go-Jek helped unemployed and underemployed Indonesians with smartphones earn income as motorbike taxi drivers.

 

Data is empowerment

For Karsa, data is key. “If we have enough data, we can have more trading going on and harness the data for trading and for empowerment. So the big vision is empowerment, advancing Indonesia’s agriculture, while making money out of it,” explains Yudha.

 

For example, farmers armed with data will have stronger bargaining power when selling their harvest. In Indonesia, farmers often sell to bulk buyers or middlemen. Some of these middlemen are loan sharks to whom the farmers owe money, which gives the loan sharks an unfair advantage when buying produce and setting prices. In other cases, farmers simply have no current knowledge of the market prices. This information asymmetry is among the issues that Karsa could help address.

 

Yudha has some ideas about how Karsa can expand. Besides growing its user base, Karsa would reach out to more corporate stakeholders and distribution channels in the agricultural industry. These comprise fertilizer companies (including state-owned ones) and farming goods stores. “I want to reach out to every farming goods store in Indonesia [and] make them a part of the Karsa network.”

 

Interestingly, Yudha doesn’t think Karsa should rush to expand nationally just yet. “If I could go deeper, [get] above 30% of farmers in East Java, I’d be happy. I mean, the population of farmers in East Java is almost the same as Singapore’s population, if not more,” Yudha says. “No need to go national too quickly, but once you [have East Java], you can start thinking of going everywhere else.”

Edited by Wendy Lovinger