Agriculture remains the most important sector in Bangladesh. The sector contributes 40% of the total employment and 14% of the GDP. But the sector faces a long list of challenges.
There are roughly about 20 million farmers. 80% of them are smallholders. The majority of farmers are unbanked. Financial institutions don’t loan to farmers. They are not considered creditworthy. The sector is considered to be unorganized. Lack of education hurts productivity. A middlemen-dominated supply chain hurts the profitability of farmers.
There are alternative narratives as well. The corporatization of agriculture is taking farming out of the hands of farmers. Farmers have less control over input, fertilizer, pesticides, and so on. Consequently, agriculture has gotten expensive for farmers. And corporations are making money off of farmers' hard work. The industrialization of agriculture has come under criticism from different quarters.
In a nutshell, farmers struggle to access finance, market, quality inputs, and information.
Several startups in Dhaka have been trying to solve some of these problems using the power of technology.
Some of these companies such as iFarmer and iPage are taking a holistic approach to solve multiple problems farmers face including productivity improvement, finance, and market access. Others such as Khamar-e are working on supply chain traceability and market access. Nagarkrishi, the urban farming startup, looks to empower urban dwellers to get a taste of farming through rooftops and other urban farming-related services.
All of these companies are in their early stage. Some of them have raised seed investment. Others have raised pre-series A rounds. And each of them offers a peek into a diverse side of Dhaka’s startup scene where ambitious founders are putting bold ideas into work.
Below we profile four startups, in no particular order, building exciting agriculture companies.