Demand falls, innovation rises 

Demand falls, innovation rises 

Green Solutions

A pamphlet prepared by Koppal Horticulture Department to promote the sale of pomegranate

Efforts of farmer producer organisations and officials of horticulture, agriculture and other departments in the state to help growers sell their produce during a low-demand period have shown how innovation thrives in a crisis. 

Here are some initiatives:

Bidar Horticulture Farmer Producer Company (FPC) redefined its role from the supplier of farm inputs to the facilitator of fruit and vegetable sale to ensure that not just the member farmers but others too don't reap a bitter harvest. 

Two active members of the organisation, Chetan Dabke and Sidraj Patil developed an online platform to sell farmers' produce in just one day. "We didn't have the technical expertise. But that didn't matter. We couldn't see our fellow farmers losing their months of hard work and investment due to the sudden drop in demand," said civil engineer-turned-farmer Chetan. 

They buy a range of fruits and vegetables, from papaya to greens, from nearly 100 farmers and sell it to the households in Bidar city. It has benefited both sides as people were worried about fresh vegetable supply during the lockdown. In the past 10 days, they have made a transaction of over three lakh rupees and received over 1,000 orders. 

Puthari Farmers Producer Company in Gonikoppal of Kodagu district went a step ahead and started purchasing perishable produce from other parts of the state.  This includes one tonne of grapes from Bengaluru rural-Chikkaballapur region and papaya from Mysuru-Mandya region. "We were just developing a marketing plan when the crisis struck. Lack of experience didn't deter us from plunging into this. We followed social media posts and approached farmers," says M R Cariappa, managing director of the company. 

This effort has gained public attention for its gesture of offering farmers a price more than what they quote. "Growers are in distress, but no one should take advantage. We keep just a 5% margin," Cariappa says. The produce they procure gets sold at Gonikoppal town and they plan to continue this even after the lockdown period. They have realised that negating middlemen helps both farmers and consumers.

Even as these farmer producer organisations are learning the nuances of marketing, the Horticulture Farmer Producer Company in Hunagund of Bagalkot district has put into practice its previous experience to develop marketing linkages for farmers in the region. In the past one month, as many as 328 farmers have sold their produce through this organisation resulting in a transaction of over one crore rupees. 

Ravi Sajjanar, a director of the FPC, lists the produce that are sold in the last four weeks: watermelon, pomegranate, banana and grapes, vegetables and pulses.

"More than 100 Horticulture and NABARD farmer producer organisations (FPO) are doing output business. A total of 1,300 tonnes of fruits and vegetables have been sold by these FPOs during the lockdown period," said Rajender Kataria, Secretary, Agriculture & Horticulture, and Nodal Officer, Supply Chain Management & Essential Commodities, Karnataka. 

He added that all sericulture FPOs and some agriculture FPOs are also trying to create market linkages.

While farmers in some districts are not even aware of the actions taken by the departments concerned, in other districts they are being motivated by  department officials to see an opportunity in the crisis.  

Sharanabasava of Koppal district is one such fortunate farmer who could expand his marketing network beyond his taluk to the neighbouring Gangavathi taluk during this period. "We got a pass from the district administration within two days. I have been supplying assorted fruits and vegetables to some 30 houses," he says. Apart from his produce, he also pools vegetables and fruits from neighbouring farmers. 

The Horticulture Department here swung into action soon after the crisis and ensured that the entire infrastructure is put to use — from providing two solar-powered vending vans to the farmers to setting up a procurement centre in the department premises. 

"The first thing we did was distributing passes to farmers and vendors in a decentralised manner and handing out the pamphlets with the mobile numbers of all the officials concerned," said Kishna Ukkund, Deputy Director Horticulture, Koppal. The pamphlet clearly mentions that farmers can call any time between 7 am and 11 pm on all days. "In the beginning, we used to get calls from 5 am, now it has stabilised," Krishna said.

The department motivated farmers to sell directly by hiring vehicles. Now farmers sell their produce thrice a week in different localities of the town and in peri-urban areas. For those who had grown a single crop in a large area, they compiled a state-wide buyer list and tried connecting them. A WhatsApp group which has farmers, officials, doctors, vendors, journalists as members buzzes constantly with enquiries and responses.

Krishna Ukkund said that this swift action has led to the utilisation of up to 90 per cent of the fruits and vegetables grown in the district.

At a time when officials are trying their best to save farmers from loss, a horticulture scientist in Bengaluru is connecting farmers and vendors. "Every day, requests flood my inbox," says B S Harish, an assistant professor with University of Horticultural Sciences. He has become a point of contact for both farmers and vendors. 

"It feels good when you facilitate the sale of tonnes of perishable fruits like papaya or grapes, or when a farmer follows your suggestion and succeeds in marketing a produce," says Harish. 

As they say, every small step counts, especially during a health crisis.