Maharashtra's Aniket Gharge and Jay Sidhpura started the Indian Farmer Entrepreneurs (IFE) Store, an online marketplace to help farmers directly sell their produce and value-added products to consumers without the interference of middlemen.
Maharashtra’s Sachin Gore grows sugarcane and turmeric in his 3.5-acre farmland but was always dependent on middlemen to sell his produce.
“I used to sell products to middlemen at a commission of 30 percent. If I give them produce for Rs 90 per kg, they sell it for Rs 120-150. So, they were the ones reaping the profits for my produce,” he tells The Better India.
Exploitation by intermediaries in the farming sector is a longstanding issue. Despite being the producers, farmers receive less income in the farm-to-consumer supply chain, which is controlled by middlemen.
A few years back, the 43-year-old farmer even tried to take his life. “Our situation was very bad. We would not get sufficient income for our produce. I have a family of eight to look after,” shares the Gove village resident.
Today, the farmer can sell his produce-based products, like jaggery and turmeric powder, through the Indian Farmer Entrepreneurs (IFE) Store. This online marketplace liberates farmers from middlemen’s control.
“Here, we do not have to give any amount for commission. We find this system extremely beneficial for small farmers like me as we cannot sell so much produce alone. It also helps us sell to places other than Maharashtra,” says Sachin, who manages to get orders for up to 50 kg of produce from the platform.
Behind the e-commerce platform are college friends Aniket Gharge and Jay Sidhpura. They have collaborated with at least 20 farmers from across Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh since the launch of the platform in 2022.
Eliminating the hurdle
Coming from a family of farmers, Aniket from Vadagaon village in Satara always had a passion for farming. After graduating in computer engineering, he worked in a web development company in Pune for a year. However, in 2017, he took the leap and started his own YouTube channel to share stories of farmers.
“Since my school days, I would like to speak to farmers and understand their issues,” says Aniket, who has around 2.5 lakh subscribers on his YouTube channel today.
During the stint, he found that although the government promotes organic farming, there was hardly any dedicated marketplace where farmers can sell such products without the help of intermediaries.
“Farmers earn better income with value-added organic products, but nobody tells them where they can sell them. Also, a bulk of their time goes into growing crops and cannot invest their energy in marketing the products,” he says.
“Therefore, they would sell their products locally, but despite good quality, they would not earn as much as they should because of middlemen. So I wanted to create a large marketplace for farmers so that they can earn decent incomes without any interference,” adds the 28-year-old.
So last year, Aniket combined his interest in farming and tech background to launch a marketplace for farmers along with his college friend Jay, who manages product listings on the website. With hardly any investment, they designed the website to help farmers directly sell their products to consumers and eliminate the long chain of intermediaries.
Farmers reach out to Aniket through his YouTube channel and social media. Aniket then visits their farms to inspect the products. Farmers must provide FSSAI licenses for the products. Once the registration process is completed, which involves sharing their information and product details, the products are listed on the website.
The collected products are stored in Aniket’s warehouse in Satara until they are distributed to consumers based on demand. When orders come in, the products are packaged from the warehouse and dispatched to customers via courier service.
“If your product costs Rs 100, then we will display the same. We do not charge anything other than the packaging cost which is Rs 10. For our consumers, we have also recorded documentaries on the manufacturing and processing of each of our products,” says Aniket, who simultaneously runs a digital marketing business for survival.
Highlighting one of the challenges in running such a marketplace, he says, “Sometimes, products did not deliver because of carelessness at the end of courier companies. We have to make multiple calls to ensure products reach consumers on time.”
However, “The benefits of the system are bigger than its challenges. In a span of a year, we are estimated to have nearly doubled their income. This has also helped farmers expand the customer base from Maharashtra to across the country,” he adds. With IFE Store, farmers are able to sell their products to customers in more than 15 states including Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Assam.
The platform currently has over 25 categories of products — including jaggery candies, air fresheners, pickles, rose jam, millet products, and spices. So far, they have managed to cater to about 340 customers, and Aniket plans to expand the e-commerce business in other states and connect more farmers to the platform.
It is with this motivation that Aniket continues to do the work despite reluctance from his family.
“My parents are farmers, but they always wanted me to quit farming and earn a decent income in an engineering job in the city. I believe that I could have established a good career in the IT sector, where there would have been job security. But I am fortunate to pursue my passion and be of some help to farmers at the same time,” he shares.
Edited by Pranita Bhat