The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed a lot of inefficiencies in the system, and no industries have been unaffected, and that includes the agri supply chain, which brings those fruits and vegetables from the farmland to the dinner table.
From farmers to mandis, traders, aggregators, retailers, pushcarts, small mom-and-pop stores and end-customers, the entire value chain has been disrupted and companies have had to hit pause or reset. The lack of information or real-time data across the entire ecosystem has led to food wastage, poor quality of produce and unclear pricing — which came to a head during the pandemic.
According to Researchgate, around 30-40% of total production gets wasted at various levels of the supply chain which amounts to a loss of INR 2 Lakh Cr per year, particularly in perishable food produce. Apart from the loss of revenue to the farmers, it also leads to increased additional costs in the supply chain which inevitably puts a burden on the consumers and retailers.
Furthermore, customers and businesses have become more cautious than ever in terms of what they consume, from where they buy and fair pricing due to the focus on cutting down discretionary spending and being socially responsible. This shift in behaviour across the supply chain calls for a more stringent, sustainable and reliable mode of transport.
“In the traditional agri supply chain, some people make money because they control the information. Other people [farmers, aggregators, retailers etc.] don’t make money because they do not have that information,” said Ashish Jhina, cofounder and COO at Jumbotail, a wholesale and food grocery platform that provides full-stack services for kirana stores, which includes storefront delivery and payments collection for its sellers.
Jhina, who belongs to a family of apple growers, told Inc42 that one of the motivations behind starting Jumbotail was to democratise the information and provide technology tools that not only bring transparency, but also protect quality, improve reliability and embed accountability into the process.
“Bypassing mandi, and just by improving the logistics, farmers can directly shift to retailers and the production market. It will bring in a lot more efficiency in the system,” said Milan Sharma. CEO, cofounder at Intello Labs, an agritech startup that offers standardization through visual intelligence. It assesses the quality of the food produce in the post-harvest phase, which leverages AI to spot the chemical residues and defects in the produce. This eliminates subjectivity at the time of sale, reducing losses for farmers.
Making Food Safe For 1.3 Bn & Counting
“We might have put a man on the moon, but we have not provided safe food for people” exclaimed Vasudevan Chinnathambi, cofounder at Ninjacart, an agri supply chain platform for fresh produce.
A lot of companies and startups are heavily investing in technology to bring in transparency in the supply chain, but at a structural level there needs to be an accountability mechanism for farmers. In other words, farmers need to be held accountable for what they produce, and once we start measuring that and give feedback, we will automatically start producing high quality produce, the Ninjacart’s cofounder added.
“It is easier said than done,” said Chinnathambi.
“We know that it is going to be a decade-long process, but we believe that we are at a stage where we feel the need to bring significant value in terms of information tracing, transparency and trust so that we can make food safe for billions of people.”
Transparency and traceability play a vital role in the agri supply chain, said Chinnathambi. He said that if someone likes a product or there has been a defect and wants to find out where the product came from or the necessary information, there aren’t many options available for the end-consumers.
Ninjacart is developing a mechanism where customers can actually track the food back to the source. For instance, a customer can scan a QR Code on the package, and they will be able to get all the information right from where the product was grown (farm) to residual details, facility and truck details among others.
However, not many customers would bother about the details of the product, Chinnathambi said that maybe just 1% of them will scan the product out of curiosity. But, what it does is, it brings trust in the entire process. The fact that the information is easily available to the consumers and businesses in the first place creates awareness and increases the need for accountability and reliability in the agri supply chain.
Typically, when a customer buys fruits and vegetables from the market and something goes wrong, there is no way one can trace it back to the source, and even if the customer complains about it to the vendor, there is no accountability due to multiple touchpoints.
Today, many agritech startups are mushrooming in the space and are looking to remove the hurdles in the agri supply chain and improve traceability of food, including Ninjacart, Intello Labs, Farmpal, Zomato’s Hyperpure, Bigbasket, Jumbotail, WayCool, DeHaat, KrishiHub and Kisan Network among others.
Will Transparency Be Affordable?
“What is the use of transparency if it is not affordable,” said Ninjacart cofounder.
The goal is to ensure zero residue and chemicals in food, knowing where the food is produced, what farm inputs went into it, what was the chemical residue limit, if any, This ensures complete transparency and traceability across the agri supply chain.
“We have built a four step mechanism — foodprint, farmprint, residue print and affordability,” said Chinnathambi.
Puneet Sethi, founder at Farmpal, an agri-tech platform that links farmers and retailers, said that all this tech is pointless if it cannot improve the livelihood of farmers with better income. And that’s why technology to boost transparency needs to be open and affordable. It’s only then that it will benefit the smaller farmers, who need it the most. “Once that happens, the effects across the supply chain look positive. Customers, on the other hand, will automatically be ensured of timely supply of food in terms of quality, safety and affordability.”