Due to several reasons, many farmers live on the edge, tilling just enough to survive. Though they are the growers of food, their share in the price a consumer pays at the retailers’ end is the least. In fact, much before the crops ripen, their harvests are pawned. From farm to the dining table, the food passes through a number of hands. Each of these adds a cost to it, including the food handling cost. A major issue, therefore, is how to reduce the costs and maximise the benefits to the farmers.
Common experience shows that the promises to bring back the benefits to farmers have remained on paper. The chain gets reversed when it comes to the production of organic food. Consumers would appreciate if it could be known as to what gets into the food they are buying, directly from the farmer who grows it.
Bridging the credibility gap between the growers and consumers has never been easy, given the labyrinthine chain of handlers, processors, packers, distributors and retailers between the twain. In this light, TruTrade, a non-profit organisation based in Bengaluru, has stepped in to see that farmers got their due and consumers knew what their food contains.
To facilitate this process, the products processed and packaged by TruTrade contain all the necessary details a consumer may want to know. Written in large fonts, the packets display information such as purchase price, transport cost, processing, packaging and labelling charges, administrative expenses borne by TruTrade and dealers’ commission, and the maximum retail price (MRP). A QR code stamped underneath allows the buyer to get details like name of the farmer from whom it was sourced, his or location, possibly phone number and even a 45-second video explaining the variety of seeds, farming inputs, the age and nature of tree (in case of fruits) that bore it. For instance, Narayan Swamy of Koramangala village in Devanahalli taluk could be heard listing out the ingredients he used while growing
TruTrade is also engaged in training the farmers in sustainable farming. “We ensure transparency and traceability of the source in order that the consumers could reach back to the farmers and verify for themselves the facts that we provide,” says Naveen Seri, chief executive officer of TruTrade.
Naveen worked as an engineer for 17 years before quitting his job in 2015 to help provide the necessary support to rural farmers. He collaborated with like-minded people to work with farmers and take the products to consumers with transparency, lest they are seen as brokers in the middle.
The organisation works with 20,000 organic farmers from Udupi, Uttara Kannada and Gadag districts in Karnataka and some districts in Andhra Pradesh. As many as 95 types of products are processed and packed at the organisation’s packaging plant at Nagarbhavi in Bengaluru and later taken to the retail outlets.
Shivanna Lakshamana, coordinator for training in organic farming for Gadag district, says, “The TruTrade operations in the district cover nearly 1,500 farmers who collectively own 2,443 hectares of farms spread over 90 villages. Here, the farmers grow pulses, vegetables and fruit. Most of these farmers have been trained in preparing compost and other certified organic inputs.” Shivanna himself owns a 20-acre farm in Merasabihalli village of Chitradurga district and has been practising organic farming prior to joining TruTrade.
Network of pushcarts
According to T Ambika, chief scientist at TruTrade, support to farmers extends beyond the farm and the organisation facilitates third-party certification of produce by independent agencies authorised to carry out the certification.
In spite of concerted efforts, Naveen says, the odds were formidable for such a kind of marketing. Most retail chains buy foodstuff in bulk quantity and add 30 to 40% margins. “They demanded the same from us forcing us to retrace our steps as very little was being left for the farmers. Now, we are looking for building up a network of pushcart vendors who would take the organic produces directly to the consumers,” he informs.
Having hooked first 50 small kiranas (grocery) retailers in Hyderabad, TruTrade now plans to reach Bengaluru consumers through thelawalas (pushcart vendors) with 25 varieties of vegetables and fruits to begin with. Naveen says their items will be sold in the city initially through 50 pushcart vendors. Currently, five of them are already on the road. For more details, one can contact TruTrade at firstname.lastname@example.org or call on +918861722228.