Forty-year-old Krishnamurthy, a farmer from Alambadi village located around 40 km from Bengaluru was distraught after the lockdown was announced. The cabbage crop he had invested in ₹90,000 was sold at a meager ₹25,000 and he was worried his other crops would meet the same fate.
Fortunately for him, a Bengaluru-based start-up Ninjacart bailed him out by helping him sell his produce at a feasible price.
Similarly, another farmer in Malur, Karnataka, Manju suffered a loss of around ₹1,50,000 in the first 10 days of the lockdown as he had to throw away his capsicum produce with no takers.
That’s when an active residents’ welfare association approached him for his supplies.
During these times of lockdown, various residents’ welfare associations and start-ups have come to the rescue of both the farmers and residents by becoming the bridge between the two.
Ninjacart is a business to business (B2B) fresh produce supply chain company, through which Krishnamurthy managed to sell around 7 tonnes of ash gourd.
It came as a huge relief for Krishnamurthy and his family of four who is completely dependent on the income from this three-acre farm.
“I have taken this farmland on lease for ₹50,000 per year per acre and I had already suffered losses. But they (Ninjacart) purchased my produce especially the smaller variety of ash gourd for around ₹10-13 per kg. They pay within a week of delivery and the rate is fixed in the morning. The best part is there’s no volatility like in a mandi (market) and they provide transportation to cold chain facilities if we want,” said Krishnamurthy.
Adding that while the private players provide facilities as such, he added, the government-owned Horticultural Producers Co-operative Marketing and Processing Society (HOPCOMS) does not give good prices for the farmer’s produce even if they bring it all the way to Bengaluru.
In Manju’s case, Whitefield Rising – a community of residents from the Whitefield area, started procuring vegetables from farmers in Kolar to cater for the apartments in the area and for the ration kits that were being donated to the needy in the locality.
“Middlemen from Tamil Nadu are asking our produce for ₹4-5 per kg, we can’t even pay labour cost at that price, Whitefield rising is giving us a reasonable rate at least. I am hoping they will take more in the coming days because we produce 2-3 tonnes of capsicum every week and there is no market where we can go and sell it,” said Manju.
Ninjacart said the decision to procure vegetables from marginal farmers was a conscious one since the lockdown started.
“We wanted to help as many marginal farmers as possible because if they suffer losses then their capital is eroded and they can’t take that big a hit. So apart from the farmers in our network, we added a large number of new farmers who have sold vegetables to us. We are also trying to help them with seed and fertilizers for the next harvest,” said Thirukumaran Nagarajan, Co-founder of Ninjacart.
Whitefield Rising said they were looking for vegetable supply for their charity initiative and were suggested procuring directly from the farmers.
With the neighbourhood also suffering from supply shortage during the lockdown, they saw a win-win situation and decided to go for it.
To ease the transactions, residents of the tech corridor brought in their expertise and designed a separate app called ‘My store’ where apartments can place their order for the next day and are divided into geographical clusters for which each farmer group is assigned to sell their produce.
“We spotted an opportunity where we could procure fresh vegetables for the ration kits and apartments as well. We had to identify demand in advance and people offered tech to solve that problem with apps. Within three hours of sharing the idea, 100 people wanted to be part of it. We started the pilot phase a few days ago, 17 apartments are part of it, we will scale it to around 100 apartments once we iron out small issues,” said Nitya Ramakrishnan of Whitefield Rising.
Nitya added that a few volunteers also coordinate with the farmers and help them and this may go beyond lockdown as it helps farmers and residents as well.
Ninjacart too has been a savior for apartment complexes in 7 major cities that it is operational in, the start-up which was supplying only to big business tweaked its operation to help out apartments which wanted a supply of fresh vegetable and fruits during the lockdown.
Sobha Jasmine apartments in Bengaluru’s Bellandur that have 250 houses with more than 1,000 people with a considerable population of senior citizens were in a spot of bother as the local store did not have enough supply.
That’s when Prasanna Krishna, a resident, and founder of Upekkha dialed his college mate Thirukumaran Nagarajan for help.
Prasanna aggregated the needs of the residents and placed one big order with Ninjacart, his wife who has worked with e-commerce firms brought in her experience to systematically collate the needs of 250 flats in the complex and quick delivery.
“Local stores were running short of supplies and that is when we approached Thiru, in the initial few days we got around 350 kg of vegetables. Since the quality was good and fresh, the demand increased, and now the apartment orders around 550 kg of vegetables which are delivered once a week. The prices are lower than what it is in the local shops and we don’t have to step out,” said Prasanna Krishna.
The Sarjapur residents’ welfare association too decided to procure from farmers pretty early during the lockdown.
During the first week of the initiative around 30 apartments signed up for the service.
“We ensured every day 5 apartments get supplies, initially there were 30 apartments and now many more have tied-up with other farmers. It used to take too much effort to manage the orders and coordinate with farmers but over the time it has become more decentralised,” said Joy V.R. of Sarjapur residents’ welfare association.
He added that the farmers save ₹2 per kg on transportation as they are now selling in the neighbourhood and many grocers have now shown interest in delivering there.
“We have compiled a list of farmers and other providers and shared in the WhatsApp group,” Joy said.
Seeing the success of these initiatives, it can be said that the pandemic and lockdown might have changed the way farmers and consumers transact. In the coming days too, with the possibility of middlemen being eliminated to a large extent, this may continue.