Sistema.bio India Country Director
Changing perceptions about biogas technology in rural populations
Sistema.bio works with smallholder farmers across more than 30 countries globally. We started our work in India in 2018 intending to create value from waste in the lives of farmers across the country. Within two years, we have impacted over 50,000 people across the country and installed over 10,000 digesters.
This journey was not as easy as it looks on the surface though. We started our pilot project in Dahod, Gujarat by installing 55 biodigesters with our partner TATA Trust. Scaling after the pilot required us to reach out to individual customers by initiating door-to-door awareness campaigns. When our teams went to the field, we were faced with the reality: among Indian farmers, biogas technology bears a dismal reputation.
Our biggest challenge in the past two years has been to change farmers’ mindsets and spread awareness about the benefits of biogas technology for smallholder farmers.
Our strategy? Think different.
We revamped our approach of reaching out to farmers by incorporating innovative ideas from all our team members and putting ourselves in the shoes of our end customers. We have been using the following ways to reach out to farmers:
- Collaboration with partners: We realized very early on that door-to-door campaigns would not allow us to reach the kind of impact that we envision for India. Thus, we approached several organizations that have the same vision as us: to alleviate the challenges of smallholder farmers. We are currently associated with 22 organizations, which include NGOs, private corporations, government organizations, dairy associations, women-led outreach organizations, among others. These collaborations have helped us reach over 10,500 farmers to deliver our biodigester technology.
- Dairy farmers’ meets: As biogas systems require a regular feeding of cow dung, the technology is the most convenient for smallholder dairy farmers. To reach out to dairy farmers, our on-ground sales teams organize group discussions with dairy farmers in villages as well as small towns to run awareness campaigns about biogas. These meets are often held in a common setting, as a part of weekly meetings that are held in villages, for instance, a Gram Panchayat meeting, in the form of verbal as well as visual presentations. We focus on the benefits of biogas technology, as well as the features of our Sistema.bio digesters. The familiar setting helps farmers to raise their queries without any inhibitions. With the help of visual aid tools, we are able to explain to farmers how our technology works. We have done 160 dairy farmers meets in the last 6 months and have engaged with more than 5000 dairy farmers of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
- Static visibility campaigns in marketplaces: Every village or district in India hosts a weekly market, wherein all fruits and vegetable vendors come together to sell their produce. Some markets also include the sale and purchase of livestock. We set up canopies in these markets to initiate brand awareness campaigns. To this day, we have done static campaigns in 120 villages/districts. Such markets see an influx of the same people every week due to which the brand recognition, as well as recall, is very high.
- Biogas demonstration events: Due to the lack of awareness about prefabricated modular biodigester systems, farmers often express the desire to see the biodigester work. For this purpose, we organize several demonstration events at existing users’ farms. This gives all potential customers an insight into the way our system produces biogas as well as biofertilizer. The existing farmer family also helps the potential customers understand how they make use of their Sistema.bio digesters, demonstrating the usage as well. We have done over 5,000 such demonstrations at existing units. Due to the pandemic, we had to stop these in-person events, but we are conducting e-demonstration camps, in which we invite farmers on video chat and engage with them live.
- Events with dealers and distributors: Our association with dealers and distributors who deal in agricultural products helps us set up canopies, standees, as well as banners at their offices to increase visibility about our products in the market. We have established an incentive-based program for the dealers and distributors through which they help us identify the farmers who are interested in buying our biodigesters. Our canopy-based product interaction counters near dealer shops help incoming farmers get answers to all their questions around modern biogas technology. On a routine basis, we conduct 2-3 canopy events every week at selected dealer locations in Maharashtra.
- Open-air night movie screenings: In what is one of our most innovative ideas, our teams suggested that we reach out to dairy farmers at milk collection centers. How could we pull this off was the question since farmers are always in a hurry after depositing milk at the booths. Since dairy farmers send in milk twice a day, we thought it best to approach farmers at night as they are not as time-bound. We went ahead and sought permission from the milk collection centers to screen movies at night. Currently active in Maharashtra, we screen movies about biogas, Sistema.bio technology as well as existing testimonials on the walls of milk collection centers. We have received a great response from farmers for the 28 events that we have done so far.
- Social media campaigns: Farmer agro groups are very popular among smallholder farmers. The groups have a major influence on the purchase decision of farmers in respect to agricultural products. Our teams are in constant contact with these groups on WhatsApp as well as Facebook to promote Sistema.bio digesters as well as answer farmers’ queries about biodigester technology.
- Exhibitions and fairs: In the pre-COVID-19 era, many agricultural fairs gave us the opportunity to set up stalls as well as canopies to target a very specific audience: farmers who are looking forward to up-and-coming technology, and also have the means to access such events. Such farmers, when converted into customers, also act as influencers for other smallholder farmers.
In the pandemic, we employed many ideas that did not require us to physically meet farmers. But we realized that while our lives had come to a standstill, farmers were still toiling in their fields, with even more limited resources than before. As soon as the lockdown eased down, our team insisted that they would like to go on the field with the social distancing measures and meet the farmers in person whether to check up on existing customers or to meet any other farmers who could benefit from our systems. We waived off loans for three months for all existing and new customers, to help them in these unprecedented times.
I have seen the eagerness to work in every team member at Sistema.bio, and it only comes from the fact that we put farmers above all else and we strive to create value from waste!