We are digitizing agriculture in India with AWS—empowering farmers with e-commerce accessibility.
Anil Kumar Gupta General Manager, IT Services, IFFCO

The digital transformation of India isn’t slowing down. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that he wants to create a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. This includes creating “broadband highways,” so that India’s rural populations gain the same access to the internet and e-commerce services as urban communities.

The Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) has a clearly defined mission to look after the welfare of India’s farmers by producing and marketing fertilizers. One of India's biggest cooperative societies, IFFCO is wholly owned by Indian Cooperatives. It has a vast marketing network—about 36,000 cooperative societies and 55 million farmers—that provides members with a range of fertilizer products to help increase crop yields. At the end of the first quarter of 2018, IFFCO’s revenues were INR 20,788 crores [$2.9 billion].

IFFCO’s aim is to connect all rural farmers and cooperative societies in the country on a single digital platform. This is in line with Prime Minister Modi's digital initiative and cashless drive. As such, the company launched a new portal called the Indian Cooperative Digital Platform. This portal serves as a platform for communication and commerce between several parties—such as consumers, different types of societies including its member cooperative societies, and IFFCO. The portal is available in 13 major Indian languages. “We wanted to empower farmers through e-commerce, giving them the option of ordering online if that saved them money or even time, instead of having to make long journeys to local retailers,” says Mr. Anil Kumar Gupta, general manager of IT Services at IFFCO.

IFFCO has been using an on-premises environment and a colocation environment to run several workloads. Its initial plan was to add the new e-commerce portal to the same environment. However, that changed when Mr. Gupta became aware of Amazon Web Services (AWS) at a CIO event in India. He recalls, “When we spoke to AWS, we were told an e-commerce portal could be up and running in less than a week. We were amazed because our expectation, which was based on our timeline for procuring on-premises hardware and setting up storage and disaster recovery, was three to four weeks.”

AWS also proposed an AWS Partner Network (APN) Advanced Consulting Partner, Umbrella Infocare, to help deliver the e-commerce portal. Mr. Gupta says, “Umbrella Infocare came onboard and we had the site’s portal up-and-running in just three days—an exceptional feat by any standard. Although I was initially concerned about low internet speeds in rural areas, I found that it didn’t impact our service as much as we had anticipated.”

The AWS infrastructure consists of 12 Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances supporting web, application, and database servers. The e-commerce capabilities were delivered using Magento, which sits within an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) and runs on Amazon EC2 M5 Instances. Records of purchases and details of customers are stored in Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS). Multiple application programming interfaces (APIs) connect the AWS Cloud infrastructure with the order-management system of the logistics company that delivers orders within seven days.

A majority of IFFCO’s target audiences are a mix of literate, semi-literate, and illiterate farmers from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. This means that the best ways to communicate are through videos and images rather than text-heavy content. IFFCO added video streaming to its e-commerce portal within three months after the site went “live”. These videos educate farmers on how to use IFFCO products and authorize portal payments. Because Umbrella Infocare created a media ingestion workflow using AWS Lambda (Lambda), these videos are available on all internet-enabled devices, regardless of their operating systems. As soon as a video is uploaded to Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Lambda initiates Amazon Elastic Transcoder to convert the media file into versions that can be played on smartphones, tablets, and PCs. The content is then delivered to these devices via Amazon CloudFront, ensuring a consistently good viewing experience.

Extending e-commerce to the farming community is an important step in the digital transformation of India. For Mr. Gupta, it represents the democratization of e-commerce. Today, farmers have the option to buy online instead of spending hours traveling to and from physical retail stores. “We are digitizing agriculture in India with AWS—empowering farmers with e-commerce accessibility. In addition, by showcasing videos on effective crop farming, farmers have been able to increase their crop yields by more than 25 percent,” Mr. Gupta says.

With the website running on the AWS Cloud, development time is much shorter. Mr. Gupta comments, “With AWS, our IT operations efficiency has improved by at least 80 percent while generating cost savings of more than 50 percent, because we can select, deploy, and manage AWS resources with ease. There is no procurement cycle or need to dedicate capital budgets to projects. Our monthly AWS billing is nowhere near the cost of electricity for an on-premises environment of a similar size.”

Mr. Gupta adds, “Our AWS deployment has been designed to be highly available. We have placed our deployment in two availability zones, and we used AWS Auto Scaling to make it highly scalable. The most significant benefit of partnering with AWS is that we have not experienced any downtime since our deployment.”

After seeing the cost-effectiveness, performance, and availability provided by running digital workloads on AWS, IFFCO has launched a new website on AWS called IFFCO YUVA, a job and recruitment portal for skill development and employment. Employers in rural areas can advertise job vacancies and offer guidance on how to succeed in job interviews. So far, IFFCO YUVA has more than 150 employers registered, with more than 1,000 jobs posted, and it has achieved 22,800 site visitors within three months of going “live.” Mr. Gupta comments, “This is only the beginning. We are currently looking at how we can extend the site’s features to help jobseekers, especially the young, find employment.”