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Amid Pandemic, Chandigarh Man Helps 23 Lakh Farmers Sell Produce on WhatsApp, Twitter

Amid Pandemic, Chandigarh Man Helps 23 Lakh Farmers Sell Produce on WhatsApp, Twitter

Harvesting Farmer Network has helped 23 lakh farmers across India sell produce worth $23 million through partnerships with government agencies, non-profit organizations and farmer groups.

Last April, when the coronavirus-induced lockdown was in force nationwide, Ruchit Garg, the founder and CEO of agri-tech startup, Harvesting, set up a Twitter account called Harvesting Farmer Network (HFN) to help distressed farmers across the country sell their crops. Within days of its launch, the handle @harvestingfn logged close to 15,000 followers. After farmers sought help, Ruchit would share details like their name, type and quantity of produce and location/phone number for buyers, who would then call them directly to purchase their harvest.

In the 10 months since, Ruchit claims that farmers have listed agri-produce worth over $23 million, attracting 2.3 million farmers—which includes individual farmers and Farmer Producer Organisations or FPOs—from 22 states on their Twitter platform. In this system, farmers would send WhatsApp messages to the HFN team with key details and images of the produce, and their technology would broadcast the supply information to buyers on Twitter.

The HFN Twitter page listed over 200 commodities, which were then bought by food-processing companies, F&B restaurants, food exporters and five-star hotel chains, amongst others. Ruchit and his team managed all this through their page on Twitter, but there were some definite shortcomings in this approach.

To address these shortcomings his startup today announced the launch of HFNMandi.com to help Indian farmers directly market and sell their agri-products to wholesale buyers. As per their press release, “HFN Mandi is a free online service for farmers to connect and transact with genuine buyers across India and the world.”

Produce
Ruchit Garg, CEO & Founder of Harvesting

Limitations to the Twitter Page

“While many farmers sold their produce thanks to HFN, we realised that farmers were struggling to find transport, figure out the minimum order quantity (MOQ) and didn’t entirely trust buyers they knew nothing about since they weren’t from the same village, district or state. There was always apprehension about selling produce to people they don’t know and consequently a lack of trust,” says Ruchit, speaking to The Better India.

To solve these issues, his 15-member team realised that just putting out information about farmers and the amount of produce they need to sell was not enough.

“We felt farmers needed more hand-holding when it came to payment collection, ensuring trust between buyer and seller and transportation. We then decided to create an online marketplace, the first of its kind in India, where farmers are listing their crops directly and the buyers are fulfilling their orders. With our platform, farmers and buyers don’t have to worry about MOQ. Using an in-house developed algorithm, we can dynamically decide how much of a minimum order is required to ensure this transaction makes business sense for farmers and buyers. Depending on how far the buyer is located, our system can automatically calculate the MOQ one needs to purchase and that also includes other variables like crop perishability and which sector is this product heading towards, etc,” he explains.

For Farmers

Harvesting has also tied up with an undisclosed transport logistics company, which ensures neither the buyer nor farmer needs to seek transportation.

Using their in-house algorithms, Harvesting automatically calculates the distance and cost of transportation and displays it on the platform so that the buyer knows the landing cost. Buyers also have the option of calling the farmer and addressing any concerns or queries. The buyer places the order and deposits the money, while Harvesting informs the farmer that an order has been received and that they should release their produce for transport.

“For farmers, we have maintained a low tech system. Most of them are not very comfortable dealing online. Instead, farmers interact with us on WhatsApp. On our publicised WhatsApp number, they send us texts and images of the product they would like to list. When they send their first text [a Hello or any other greeting], there is a computer-generated system, where we support three languages for the time being [Hindi, Punjabi and English]. Based on their choice of language, the computer asks certain questions like their name, where they are located, crop type and how much do they want to sell it for,” informs Ruchit.

After Harvesting collects these basic details, their agent reviews the information. If there are any clarifications required, their agent calls the farmer up directly. For verification, Harvesting asks individual farmers for their Aadhaar and PAN card details, and if they claim to represent an FPO, certain other verification documents are sought. This, Ruchit believes, ensures trust among buyers. Once all the information is verified, their information goes online onto the HFN Mandi website, where potential buyers can compare listings.

“It’s great for buyers since things have never before been so transparently listed on a website by the farmers. Never before were buyers able to search on a single platform where the closest and good quality papaya is available. We maintain quality checks and also give buyers live updates on transporting the produce. Farmers from Meghalaya are now able to export their crops to countries like South Africa because they listed products on our platform. We had earlier helped farmers there export 20,000 kilos worth of ginger to South Africa,” he says.

Produce
Getting felicitated for the work he has done by the Meghalaya government.

As their press release notes, “Prices are decided by the farmers and orders are fulfilled by farmers themselves. For buyers, it provides not only access to the largest selection of crops under a single roof at attractive prices, but also provides a seamless experience of purchasing agri-produce in wholesale, including the booking of transportation, on ground quality checks, legal contract, escrow of funds, etc.”

Shashank, from Delhi who exports to West Asia and the US, says, “HFN Mandi has made my life as an exporter much easier. I found the HFN team very prompt and efficient, their fair trade practices are in line with the international standards and now HFN is my go-to team for all my agri-export needs. Automatic calculations of MOQ, transparent pricing and transportation saves a lot of headaches I would otherwise face.”

At present, Chandigarh-based Harvesting is a bootstrapped startup, although they are in discussions with several investors who have shown an interest in their platform offering farmers an alternative channel to generate additional income. It’s a platform for 120 million smallholding farmers whose time, Ruchit believes, has come.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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