What if I told you that the prices of vegetables, fruits and grains are not going to fluctuate for all of 2020? The price of tomato per kilo will be Rs 40 irrespective of floods, droughts and even the pandemic. Meanwhile, farmers growing tomatoes will get higher revenue – up to 40 per cent.
The best part? The tomatoes are completely chemical-free.
Sounds too good to be true?
Well, Venkat Vetti from Hyderabad has translated this into a reality (on a small scale) through this venture ‘Farm2Fridge’.
The one-of-its-kind store has tied up with close to 70 farmers who are practising ‘Zero Budget Natural Farming’ to sell chemical-free fruits, vegetables and grains via the website or mobile app. Customers in Hyderabad, Vizag, Guntur and Vijayawada can avail this service.
Only after a customer orders does the farmer start harvesting the food, and once a week, a box of freshly harvested veggies and fruits is delivered to the customer’s doorstep. The company has divided the areas as per the zones and dedicated one day to each of them. This gives the customer an idea about when to place the order as per their day.
“Last year, I happened to watch videos on organic vegetables and their benefits. A simple google search introduced me to Farm2Fridge, and since then, I have been buying vegetables from them. The prices are reasonable, and quality is good, fresh and healthy,” Sruthi, a customer from Hyderabad, tells The Better India.
This farm-to-fork model has catered to almost over 5,000 customers since its inception. Not just that, many farmers who were previously using harmful pesticides have now switched to natural farming, thus bringing about a larger environmental impact.
Venkat aimed to provide his customers with authentic, stable, organically processed food, and in doing so, making farmers self-reliant by adopting organic farming.
“I became a farmer in my thirties with no prior knowledge or experience. All I knew was I wanted to convince farmers that growing food without chemicals is possible. I tried doing that when I was working alongside Subhash Palekar as part of the World Bank’s programme to integrate technology in farming. Many thought I was only preaching. So to prove my point, I leased 30 acres of land in Hyderabad in 2011,” Venkat tells The Better India.
For the next five years, Venkat experimented with various types of farming like intercropping and multi-layering, then introduced drip irrigation, and experimented with natural pest-repellents like leaves of neem and guava. After some failures and monetary losses, he finally learnt it.
After collaborating with two Farmer Producing Organisations (FPOs) comprising 30-40 farmers each, Venkat formally launched the company in 2016. He even managed to get 17 marginal farmers on board and helped them switch to ZBNF by providing guidance and inputs like seeds for free.
How The Fixed Price Model Works
The entire model is based on data analyses and the intervention of artificial intelligence. So every
“We use algorithms to predict future demands, climate change, number of potential customers, what kind of vegetables will be in demand. Based on these factors, we decide prices and place fixed orders with the farmers three months in advance so that they are well prepared. It is walking on a very tight rope between demand and supply, but with each order, our process gets better,” explains Venkat.
To determine prices, Venkat analysed the rate of veggies and grains from 2010-2020. An average of every year’s prices is combined with other factors like climate changes, transport, storage, etc.
Meanwhile, the farmers are paid every 15 days, and their profit margins are based on their farm soil and farming experience.
“We are getting better and fair prices for the crops I grow. Normally, there are barely any profit margins if I sell directly in the market. With twofold income, I was even able to pay off the agriculture loan I had taken a couple of years ago,” says Manda Satya Rao, a farmer associated with the startup since 2016.
All the farmers are based on the outskirts of Hyderabad to ensure the deliveries are done the same day of ordering. Every six months, Venkat also gives every farmer’s soil and water samples for lab testing to ensure they are not using any chemicals.
With absolutely no connection to farming, Venkat’s journey to farming is quite unusual considering the deplorable plight of farmers in India.
A farmer even called him ‘crazy’ for leaving a well-paid established career for something that is forcing farmers to take their own lives. Venkat was not affected by what his parents, relatives or anyone said just like the time when he shifted his career to the IT sector in 1999.
“My father was a bank employee, so he guided me towards commerce and subsequently Chartered Accountancy. I worked as a CA for a year and soon realised the IT industry was on the cusp of booming. So, I joined Oracle as a functional consultant. This was my gateway to a corporate career which ended after the World Bank programme,” says Venkat.
The programme required Venkat to visit farmlands across Andhra Pradesh and help farmers incorporate innovative techniques. This project opened his eyes to the reality of farming.
“Many farmers were rigid in adopting new methods due to insufficient resources. They preferred chemicals as the government gave subsidy. Every time I visited any village, it was so clear that the farmers weren’t happy. They didn’t want their children to go into farming because they didn’t think it had a rewarding future,” he recalls.
These interactions gave him the idea to venture into natural farming and establish a steady market for farmers, one that would be without any middleman.
The rest is history.
Get in touch with Farm2Fridge here.
Edited by Vinayak Hegde