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“Waiting for competition to tap the $ 150 mn agri-info MVAS market along with us”: RML

Amit Mehra
MD, Reuters Market Light (RML)
  TT Correspondent |  Mumbai | 29/10/2009

Surprised reading the headlines! In a market where players confine to themselves the recipe to secret especially when the business is successful, Thomson Reuters’ subsidiary, Reuters Market Light (RML) is actually eagerly awaiting for the competition to creep in. And it wants the competition to advocate its cause.

The company which has evolved from being a intern project at Standford University, is getting attention not only for making a successful business model out of information services focused towards the agricultural community of India but more so for the way it has impacted the lives of farmers in a positive way.

Take for instance the case of Manikrav Suryabhan Parve. The farmer from village Rajur in Maharashtra’s Jalna district had 55 quintals of cotton to sell. The market price which he was getting was Rs 2,200 which was no way appealing to Parve. The farmer then subscribed to RML’s information services and through the commodity update services came to know that prices of cotton were set to rise in few days. Accordingly the farmer decided to wait. And guess what, he earned Rs 22,000 more than what he could have earned by selling it earlier.

There are many such instances which highlight how RML is in a way serving a social cause.

“We have farmers thanking such us for helping them rope in profits. Some say they have been able to marry off their daughters,” says Amit Mehra, MD, RML in an interaction with TelecomTiger.

Mehra says that such satisfying feedback has motivated the company to enhance its offering from covering 50 commodity markets to more than 150 now and this too is set to increase as the company aims to expand its footprint across India. Present in Maharashtra and Punjab, the firm recently launched its services in Gujarat in tie-up with Biostadt. It is set to launch its services in 10 states gradually including states such as Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. RML has touch points at 1000 Mandis with its own team monitoring information at almost all these mandis. It is currently focusing on having presence at the district level but aims to go localize it to taluka level soon. The company has 300 plus information points in Maharashtra alone and at the national level 450+ employees in its content division alone.

“If one analyses the current MVAS offerings, they are mainly broadcast in nature. I mean they lack the personalized touch. Our service however is personalized as well as professional,” says Mehra.

RML offers all its content in relevant local languages depending on the region. Its bouquet of services also include forecast on over 1,800 weather locations in India.

Among the new services next in line, RML plans to introduce tips and advisory services related to climate. It also plans to offer insurance services to the farmers as it feels that such services complement its existing offerings.

RML worked very closely with the Nokia Life Tools team most of last year and exclusively powered all the agri services of Nokia Life Tools to ensure the successful pilot in Maharashtra. "We look at Nokia, and many others, as partners to help expand the reach of RML. Currently, IDEA Cellular sells RML-IDEA Cards (one of RML's innovation) through their retail outlets, and partners like Adhaar, local Credit Societies, etc. are selling the RML Direct card through their retail network. What is unique about RML is that all we do is create, deliver, and sell personalised, professional information to farmers - nothing else. The beauty of our model is that we provide information as per the individual's need. So the banana grower gets his choice of markets, and his neighbour may choose a totally different set of markets and crops. And RML is available on all phones and networks. Being part of Thomson Reuters - the world's leading provider of information to professionals and businesess - it is our obvious positioning. So we are able to maintain our neutral position in our content,” adds Mehra.

RML claims to have clocked more than 120,000 subscribers till date. Mehra is candid enough to admit that renewal and sales & distribution are a minor area of concerns as the company does not have retail presence required for it. It is for this reason that the company is now exploring business associations with mobile service providers and other players who cater to the agricultural community. It has already forged a tie-up with Idea Cellular and hopes to rope in some more.

The market for such agri-info services over the mobile medium is estimated to be near about $ 150 million; logic-the services are priced at roughly $ 1.5 per month i.e. $ 18 for a year and there are approximately 100 million farmers to tap.

RML is currently available over the SMS channel. But the company is open to explore other options as well. It is conducting trials in Punjab to offer such services over voice. “There are certain issues with voice as the farmer is not always comfortable speaking over to someone on the phone. It also leaves room for ambiguity. We would very much like to explore the GPRS mode but will have to wait for the ecosystem to evolve,” reveals Mehra.

On competition Mehra says the company’s differentiation is well thought off with a clear road map including the early mover advantage. “At present there is a lot of scope to create awareness about such services within the farming community. For us there is a cost involved in doing this. We feel that with competition entering this task will relatively ease out for us,” concludes Mehra.

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