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Digital solutions for marketing

Venkat Maroju


The Haryana Horticulture Department and SourceTrace digital platform collaborated bringing producers and buyers onto one common platform. The digital initiative empowers the FPOs to negotiate for a higher price from the market, thereby bringing monetary returns to the growers.  


Horticulture has not only improved the economic status of farmers but has also played a significant role in women’s endowment, increasing employability in areas like mushroom cultivation, strawberry picking, floriculture, and vegetable seed production industry. This sector constitutes over 24.5 percent from a mere 8.5 arable land to GDP of Agriculture in India. The production of both fruit and vegetable crops lends India as a huge exporter of fresh temperate fruits and vegetables.

However, the challenges for small farmers in agri-business has become a great cause of concern as horticulture is all about the delicate balance of fresh produce, transportation to warehouses, or direct selling to buyers at the most reasonable and current market rate.

Shifting crops

The pandemic has disrupted the vegetable and fruit farming industry. Enough news has been around wastages and rotten fresh produce, mostly due to broken transport logistics. Industry sources claim a 20-30 percent drop in vegetable seed selling. While growers are confronting issues including transportation, marketing of vegetables, lack of tools, acute shortage of labour for harvesting their crops, many are turning to cereal cultivation.

As shared by the National Seed Association of India (NSAI), a few states moved towards maize cultivation instead of vegetables like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. NSAI also mentioned that tomato cultivation might take a major hit, along with ladyfinger, pumpkin, and bottle gourd (lauki). There was speculation about a massive drop in the cultivation of cauliflower (gobi) across India. In contrast, onion seeds did well in Madhya Pradesh, and therefore, a decent onion crop can be expected.

According to the Vegetable Growers Association of India (VGAI), heavy losses incurred during the lockdown by the horticulturists, attributing to the closing of the APMC (Agriculture Produce Market Committee) they are unwilling to stick to vegetables & fruit farming. A big chunk of them has diversified into sugarcane farming too.

During the lockdown, a percentage of small and marginal farmers in Maharashtra joined hands with housing societies and farmer groups connected to the housing complexes, to sell fresh vegetables and fruits at the doorsteps of these societies. Naturally, the profits were earned directly by cultivators and consumers got better deals. However, these experiments were limited to villages located near the city fringes. 

Existing agri-technologies in Fruits & Vegetables Industry

When it comes to applying technologies in horticulture, the application of digital technologies are being implemented in primarily three ways; Digitisation of Farms providing farmers with an overview of their entire operations from production, pest control, inventory management, and tracking. Secondly, Climate-Smart Precision Farming aiding growers with data-driven decision-making using sensing technology to records varied parameters of soil, environment and crop.  Third, the Agri Market Place primarily for price alerts, agricultural news, government mandi prices in local languages where possible, connecting farmers to sellers, and facilitates price discovery through discussion.

This primarily results in saving costs (water, energy, fertilizers, and pesticides), prevents product losses (controlled weather conditions, adequate harvest times), and optimizes routine field tasks by automating the processes. Additionally, real-time alerts on crops to make any prior adjustments to reach optimal yield is also a plus.

Organizing the farmers digitally

Small Farmers Agri-business Consortium (SFACH) and Haryana Horticulture Department, deployed digital solutions by SourceTrace to support horticulture farmers. The Haryana Horticulture Department is committed to delivering a responsive and operative mechanism for the welfare of farmers and farm-based communities.  These organizations recognize the need to harness the escalating IT for the progress of the life of the farmers and of the management of FPOs in the state, this project involves creating about 100,000 farmer profiles and digitizing their farms.

The digital platform not only eliminated middlemen but also fetched better price for the produce

Dr. Arjun Singh Saini, Managing Director of SFACH, India stated, ‘Our vision is to strengthen farming communities through extensive use of Information Technology in Agriculture; we envisage a scenario wherein every farmer and member of FPOs shall be able to access the benefits of a comprehensive platform like SourceTrace for speedy and easy access to horticulture service, leading to a better quality of life for the farmers in the State.’

Multi-pronged impetus to farmers

To take advantage of generous harvests, the Haryana Horticulture Department and SourceTrace digital platform collaborated for market linkages, bringing producers and buyers onto one common platform, enabling buyers to procure fresh produce directly from the FPOs and farmers. The department encourages probable buyers (exporter, mandi buyer, local retailer) to register on the portal, then look up the product using filters such as district, crop, variety, grade, and FPO. The digitized profile of the growers enables the display of the quantity available of the produce in real-time, alongside the contact details of the person at the FPO, hence shortening the buying process to close the deal.

Firstly, the absence of timely and routine advice on managing pest and crop diseases is being addressed by the farmer mobile application that connects growers with experts via crop-based advisory. To simplify and ensure their ease-of-use of the mobile services, the user interface is designed keeping in mind the need for flexibility, local languages, and quick reach to the experts.

The application is easily downloaded from the google play store, and the simple registering process helps the farmer fetch the pests and diseases menu. It is made possible using preloaded pictures of major pests and diseases within the system, in collaboration with and approval of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR). The user can effortlessly match the pest/disease in the field, and pre-fed recommendations are available. If not, the grower can click a picture of the affected plant and upload it with comments. This information is directed to the expert or scientist from the agriculture department, who responds with an advisory delivered through SMS to the farmer.

Digitally empowered farmer

Secondly, this digital platform connects farmers to FPOs and their corresponding clusters (456 clusters participated) in the state of Haryana, providing the department with an overview of clusters/FPOs/farmers.  The details include real-time data on the crop, production, input application, and schemes valid. The program also acts as a tool for the Department of Horticulture to deliver information on government schemes, any information on seeds, benefits, and advice to farmers through the farmer app.

Lastly, the solution empowers the FPO to aggregate the yield of the member farmers and sell to prospective purchasers.  The availability of large bulk volumes of specific kinds of produce the FPO can negotiate for a higher price from the market, thereby bringing monetary returns to the growers.

The company, so far, has involved 34,382 farmers, over 46000 acres of land with a varied crops over 60 commodities.

Two-way communication with producers

The online program covers major pests and diseases along with the advisory solutions usually preloaded into the system. When the pest/ disease in the application matches with the live pest/ disease in the field, then farmer can follow the recommendation in their local language for easy comprehension and immediate action.

In case if it does not match then using his phone, the farmer can take the picture of the live crop and upload it by adding the comments. These immediately reach the server as a notification to the expert/scientist in the department of agriculture. Thereafter, the field expert/scientist responds to the issues and send an advisory, the farmer receives the message stating – that the advisory requested from you is resolved with date and product. The SMS notifies the farmer to check the application for the recommended action helping farmer receive on-time and accurate information.

FPO’s are using mobile based technology

Organising farmer profiles, geo- fencing their farms, capturing real-time data on crop production and inputs were made seamlessly possible. Regular alerts on cluster-based weather information and advisories sent as SMS messages made it relatively easier for 384 FPO’s involved to take strategic business decisions based on the insights of the data digitized.

Market linkages made possible

The FPO’s were able to publish the available produce to potential buyers, making the transactions simpler and online. Not only did the middlemen were eliminated, the farmers could fetch fairer prices for their produce.

Connecting farmers to the external world

The pre-fed languages into the mobile app, empowers the farmers to access information on crops, seeds, buyers and reach the crop scientists in shortest time. They get access to the real time advisories on crop specific pest and diseases, seek expert’s assistance on updated information on new farm inputs and machinery and also gain knowledge of various schemes and benefits the government or banks are providing; all of this under one source, easily available and possible to comprehend.

 

Venkat Maroju

CEO,

SourceTrace Corporate HQ

125, Cambridge Drive

Suite #301, Cambridge

Massachusets 02140 USA

E-mail : vmaroju@sourcetrace.com