Organic farmers struggling to sell their harvest during the lockdown found their hero in Rinoob Bhaskaran from Kerala. His initiative ‘Support A Farmer’ helps them sell directly to consumers via Facebook and WhatsApp.
During the first COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdown, Rinoob Bhaskaran (42), a resident of Palakkad, Kerala, quit his corporate job and moved back to his parents’ home. He says his job had never been fixed to a particular city, and that he would always be on the move, travelling across various states or countries.
“This lifestyle led to unhealthy eating habits and I was diagnosed with diabetes. But in March 2020, I quit my job and began spending time with my family. During this time, I ate food prepared from the produce grown on our farm. Within a few months of consuming organic food, I noticed a drastic change in my health,” says Rinoob, adding that he also developed an interest in farming.
However, while speaking with several farmers to understand organic farming, he came to know that there were two major issues in this field. The farmers were either facing losses owing to damaged crops, or they could not sell their produce for decent prices.
“Instead of getting into farming, with help from my friend Shyju P, who is a digital marketer, I launched an initiative named ‘Support A Farmer’ to help such farmers out,” says Rinoob,
In an interview with The Better India, Rinoob shares what the initiative is and how it has benefitted 35 farmers within one year.
Selling at fair prices
When Rinoob began interacting with farmers in Palakkad, he noticed that many were cultivators with over 30 years of experience. Some had even won district and state-level awards for their excellent produce.
However, they were unable to earn or meet their monthly expenses with the produce they harvested.
“This was mainly because they were not able to tap into the right market, and in the local markets, there was too much competition. Instead of letting their organic produce go to waste, the farmers would have to sell them for cheap,” says Rinoob, adding that he wanted to help them sell their produce directly to consumers at a fair price.
So, he approached Shyju, who was also residing in Palakkad. Shyju helped him set up a Facebook page and created WhatsApp channels to raise awareness about organic produce.
Through Facebook, the duo approached several farming-related groups and began raising awareness there as well. “We requested farmers to join our cause so that we could help them earn better. Soon, we got requests from 15 farmers who were growing a variety of products including paddy, tomatoes, brinjal, coconuts, and more,” says Rinoob.
Organic produce only
Once farmers approached the duo, they conducted a background check to ensure that all the produce grown was only organic. “Last year, when there were no lockdowns for a few months, we made farm visits in person and learned about the processes undertaken to grow the crops. Then we would ask the farmers and also help them fix a price for their produce,” says Rinoob.
Then the details of the products were shared on Facebook and WhatsApp along with pictures, videos and details of the farmer. Soon, orders started pouring in from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Prijith Kumar (44), an organic cultivator of paddy, coconut, mangoes, and bananas, was approached by Rinoob in 2020. Owing to the lockdown, Prijith, a state-level award winning farmer, was unable to sell most of his produce.
“Some of my produce was sold at the local market but for very cheap rates. Mangoes which would usually sell at Rs 170 -190 per kilogram were being sold for Rs 120. After marketing my produce through Support A Farmer, I was able to get a good deal, and sell upto 1 tonne of the produce. However, I could not sell all my produce. I hope after the lockdown restrictions ease in Kerala, I will be able to earn more money,” says Prijith.
Apart from fruits and vegetables, Rinoob even onboarded farmers who were selling farm-grown eggs, honey, and a few other by-products.
Today, 35 farmers are benefitting from the initiative. Rinoob says they have also got enquiries from farmers in Tamil Nadu, but are unable to onboard them as of now. “Owing to the lockdown, we are unable to make personal visits to the farm and do background checks. However, once the situation eases, we hope to bring in more farmers and help them fetch fair prices for their harvest,” says Rinoob.
Other benefits for farmers
Apart from helping farmers sell their produce to consumers, Rinoob also plans to help increase their income by launching ‘Farm Tourism’. He convinced some farmers to set up a room on their premises so that tourists can spend a day or two among nature.
“Though this is a work-in-progress, tourists not only stay at the farm but also eat food cooked from farm produce and get to try farming techniques,” says Rinoob.
Another idea he launched earlier this year was to provide consultancy services to amateurs who are taking up farming. After understanding that maintaining a farm and growing crops is not an easy task, Rinoob convinced a few experienced farmers to provide their expertise to newcomers.
“The help they provide includes understanding the soil, advising on what crops to grow in which seasons, and how to prepare organic pesticides and fertilisers. If required, the farmers also help them grow the crops. Finally, after harvest, we help these amateurs market the fruits and vegetables for a fair price,” says Rinoob, adding that two farmers have already opted for their consultancy services.
This is a paid service and even NRIs with agricultural land can reach out for help.
If you wish to support a farmer, you can purchase their organic produce through the Facebook page.