Agri-tech: Harvesting benefits of tech at the mandi

Private e-mandis, farm-to-fork startups and location tracking & geo-fencing tech platforms are helping farmers sell their produce amidst the lockdown.

Financial Express

Noida, India: 23rd April, 2020

Desraj, a farmer in Alwar, Rajasthan, sells mustard seeds, wheat and other grains at the Bansur Anaj Mandi in Alwar district every year. But this year, with the lockdown restrictions in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Desraj started looking for other options. That’s when he heard about AgriBazaar’s e-mandi which allowed him to reach out to buyers through his mobile phone bypassing any intermediaries, compare prices and then execute a deal, all virtually.
Within days, he had negotiated deals for three tonnes of mustard seeds on the AgriBazaar app, and was looking to close more deals in the coming weeks. Best of all, he did not have to run around to get vehicle clearances from local authorities.

AgriBazaar’s on-ground staff picked up his produce and transported it to the buyer’s warehouse, and the money was credited to his account. “I plan to sell another 200 quintals of mustard seeds besides 500 quintals of wheat and 100 quintals of guar seeds on AgriBazaar,” says Desraj. “I also plan to buy seeds for the next sowing season on this app.”
Even though harvesting, sale of farm produce at mandis and other agricultural activities have been exempted from lockdown restrictions, farmers and buyers have been facing challenges in carrying out their operations.

It is here that technology has come up with alternatives, which can mitigate farmers’ distress to a large extent. From private e-mandis to farm-to-fork startups that buy fresh produce in bulk from farmers to location tracking and geo-fencing tech platforms that help regulate the movement of trucks into mandis, each of them are playing an important role in ensuring that farmers get decent remuneration for their year-long efforts.

“We have seen a 300% surge in the number of registrations from farmers and buyers since Covid-19 lockdown,” says Amith Agarwal, co-founder and CEO, AgriBazaar. “Our platform connects around 10,000 traders and processors, over 100 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) with its network of over 2 lakh farmers across India. The average deal size is 300 tonnes.”

AgriBazaar operates across 16 states, with maximum activity in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal, and most of the states in south India. “We never imagined social distancing and safety of the Indian farmer would get linked so closely with our business model of electronic buying and selling of farmer produce,” he adds. Till date, 32,437 auctions have been listed on the site, with `11,322 crore contract value traded and transaction volume of 26,29854 metric tonnes, claims the website. It has also integrated Nafed milling auction in its app.

Meanwhile, ride-hailing app Ola has collaborated with the Punjab government for effective tracking and managing 17 lakh-plus farmers’ produce and their vehicle movement into mandis while following social distancing norms. It has shared its technology capabilities to provide a direct channel to pass authentic information to farmers including distributing security travel passes digitally. Its technology platform, Ola CONNECTS, has a centralised dashboard which can track the movement of farmers along with their vehicles in and around mandis enabling officials to manage the flow of farmers when collecting their produce to prevent crowding. Says Pranay Jivrajka, co-founder, Ola, “All of Ola’s innovations across AI, tracking technologies, allocation and flow management are part of the CONNECTS platform.”

Varun Khurana, co-founder and CEO of Crofarm, a Gurgaon-based startup which supplies vegetables and fruits to small and medium-sized retailers in Delhi-NCR directly from farmers, says it is getting more queries from government horticulture agencies, FPOs as well as individual farmers since the lockdown. “Our buyers are also now relying on us more. Earlier, if a retailer made a Rs 3,000-4,000 order a day, now it is Rs 7,000,” he says . Fruits account for 40-45% of transactions in value terms on the Crofarm app, while 20% relate to onion, potato and tomato, and 30% is green produce.

According to Khurana, for fresh produce there is a very short window for sale as it is a perishable commodity. In the short term, the lockdown will pose a problem, he says. “At Azadpur mandi in Delhi which saw around 25,000 tonnes of produce coming in every day before the lockdown, the number of buyers has gone down as the number of incoming trucks is limited. So a lot of farmers are looking at alternatives.

However, startups and modern retail account for just 5% of buyers. As of now, 90-95% of deals still happen at the mandis,” says Khurana. It is this realisation perhaps that led the agriculture ministry to launch the Kisan Rath mobile app to help farmers and traders find vehicles for movement of farm produce during the lockdown, ensuring seamless supply linkages between farmers, FPOs, APMC mandis and intra-state and inter-state buyers. Developed by the National Informatics Centre, the app brings 5 lakh trucks and 20,000 tractors on the platform.

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