In 2016, engineer Ramesh Biswal was pursuing his post-doctoral studies in the US, when he heard of the mass farmer suicides in India.
Poor harvest, low selling rates for produce, environmental stressors, and crop failure were to blame.
Having grown up in a farming family in Odisha, the issue of farmer suicides held personal sentiment for Ramesh who decided to return to India in 2016 to do his part.
His idea involved coming up with a solution that would reduce the labour cost by ensuring farmers had a one-stop solution to sell their produce and were not walking miles to do so.
And so Ramesh launched ‘Villa Mart’ in 2017. The market-on-wheels sells produce procured from farmers to the villages of India; essentially functioning as a mini shop.
Complete with racks for groceries and produce, Ramesh commenced his travels through the villages of Odisha, eventually expanding to seven vans from a single one.
Today, over 3,000 farmers from all over Odisha are part of this association.
Once a farmer books the slot depending on when the harvest is ready, the vans go to these farms and return with produce that then goes to the procurement centres.
Here it is graded and sorted. Grade A and B are fit to sell, while grade C is treated with solar dryers and grade D is turned into compost.
The artificial intelligence sensors at the procurement unit efficiently detect the quality of the produce, crop disease etc.
Today, Ramesh prides himself on his four crore venture. “If I had chosen to continue working in the US — while in my hometown farmers were suffering — I wouldn’t be using my knowledge for a good cause,” he says.