Soon after the nationwide lockdown was announced in March, Manish More from Otur village in Pune district feared that his vegetable crop standing in his field would go unsold. Even as More, who is part of a WhatsApp group of farmers in other districts, was discussing ways to deliver their produce to cities, a relative called up from Mumbai.
“He told me of a scarcity of vegetables in the city,” recalls More, a post-graduate in agriculture. “I agreed to send vegetables from our fields. My relative checked with friends and neighbours in his building. And, we sent out our first order of 60 boxes on April 9.”
A group of 11 farmers pooled in their produce to execute the first few orders that came in by word-of-mouth publicity. One thing led to another, word spread to other farmers and over the last three months, this group of farmers has registered as a farmer producer company, which has completed more than 80,000 deliveries and generate business to the tune of Rs 2.75 crore. With more farmers hopping onto the bandwagon, more varieties of vegetables and fruits were added to the list of commodities on sale.
As the net widened, the group expanded to 480 farmers across WhatsApp groups and they have developed a brand titled ‘KisanKonnect’. The GenNext from farmers’ homes chipped in with their expertise. Their children studying in cities had returned to the villages and with their help, the farmers started using social media. Today, the group of youngsters has helped the farmers set up a website where orders are placed, and subsequently executed. Until then, the farmers who sold their produce at local markets or through middlemen suddenly learnt how market frontiers had blurred, pushing their produce beyond geographical boundaries.
“These three months have been a learning process,” admits Srikant Dhokchawle, a farmer from Rahata in Ahmednagar. “We’ve taken our knowledge beyond farming.” They had to dabble with marketing, Facebook, WhatsApp. The rustic gunny bag used to pack farm produce was passé. A packaging house was hired where farm produce was packed systematically. “This was to ensure that veggies don’t get crushed or spoilt while being transported,” said Dhokchawle, adding that the local agriculture officials helped them in their efforts.
And there is a bit of customer service being thrown in. The group has now launched an initiative by which they make video calls to customers to tell them how to choose different vegetables and fruits. “We do get a lot of feedback,” says More. Among this was to whittle down the use of plastic in packaging. “We’re working on this. After all, we want this initiative to be sustainable.”
The farm company provides employment to nearly 80 locals, including village women. “They’ve been trained going by the feedback we have got from our customers,” says More. A call centre in the taluka that had shut down soon after the lockdown was also cranked up. A few boys who worked there were made to handle calls they were getting.
For deliveries, trucks and vans were hired from villagers directly and initially to allay fears, the driver who would deliver the produce would be togged out in protection kits.
For now, the farm-to-home business is smooth and looking up, says Dhokchawle. “We want to keep expanding it. It helps support several farmer families.”