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With Mango Crunch, Seasonal Supply Chain Becomes New Focus For Agritech Startups

With Mango Crunch, Seasonal Supply Chain Becomes New Focus For Agritech Startups

Given the Covid-19 pandemic mango farmers were in the danger of suffering almost 100% losses but digital solutions have stepped in to rescue the situation

Ninjacart, Farmpal, Waycool and BigBasket are helping farmers sell seasonal produce directly to consumers

The government has relaxed the online selling for agricultural produce in recent months, but challenges remain for smaller farmers

Alphonsos from Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri, the renowned Badami from Karnataka, the Chausa from Himachal Pradesh, Dasheri and Fazli from Uttar Pradesh, Keshar from Gujarat and about 1500 more varieties. Mangoes are an obsession in India, but this year, the Covid-19 pandemic has not only made mangoes harder to get for many, but has also presented an opportunity for tech startups to focus on seasonal produce for boosts in growth. 

India produces some of the best varieties of mangoes in the world. As a leading producer of mangoes with a production volume of 19.57 Mn tonnes, roughly spread across 2.2 Mn hectares, the industry is largely operated by 76% smallholder and marginal farmers contributing 30-40% to their income. Unfortunately, due to inefficiencies and failure in the supply chain amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the post-harvest losses are expected to spur, thereby reducing profitability or zero revenue. 

Speaking to Inc42, Insram Ali, president, Mango Grower Association of India, said that if the Covid-19 situation continues, mango farmers could suffer almost 100% losses.

According to Ali, this year, the farmers are expecting less yield. He said that in UP alone, last year produced about 40 Lakh metric tons, whereas this year farmers are expecting 20-25 Lakh metric tonnes of mangoes. In terms of export, the mango grower association exported close to 40 Lakh metric tonnes of mangos. “This year, we are clueless as we are not able to talk to buyers,” he added, pointing at the local mandis and APMCs that are either semi-operational or shut due to pandemic. 

Ali said that this year due to coronavirus pandemic, and irregular rain, shortage of laborers and untimely usage of pesticides the situation has worsened for mango farmers, especially in the northern regions. In other words, the production of mangoes has plummeted to 50% compared to previous year. 

Recently, the government launched a new policy which allows farmers to sell their fresh produce directly to wholesalers, aggregators, processors and consumers etc. “It sounds soothing to the farmers’ ears, but in reality, it is very difficult to implement,” said Ali.   

Now, by eliminating mandis in the question, farmers will have to think of alternative solutions from scratch, be it identifying the wholesalers and retailers and then supplying it to them. For that to happen, it may easily take about a year or two, for them to build such transparency and trust in the agri supply chain, explained Ali. 

Today, a lot of farmers are becoming tech-savvy due to smartphone penetration and low data cost in the rural parts of the country. At the same time a lot of agritech startups are burgeoning in the space where they are helping farmers connect directly with consumers and businesses. Some of the emerging startups include Ninjacart, Farmpal, Waycool, BigBasket, DeHaat, Intello Labs, KrishiHub, Loop, Crofarm, FreshoKartz, Kisan Network among others. 

As mango farmers are leaning towards startups to sell their produce, they are also figuring out how to sell them directly, maybe not in large volumes but in terms of enabling that last mile delivery and earning some margins. The government is also coming up with new initiatives and websites to help farmers sell their products, online. 

Recently, in Hyderabad, the horticulture and marketing departments of the state government launched supply of fruit baskets on demand. Similarly, in Mumbai, a platform called MangoesMumbai delivers mango directly to customers. In Karnataka, a platform called delivers mangoes to customers in 24 hours, directly from farmers.  

Puneet Sethi, Founder of Farmpal — a digital agriculture platform linking farmers and retailers — said that the pandemic has somewhere accelerated the entire process of supply chain. He said, while it could have taken a longer time for people to change their buying behaviour. The last two months has forced farmers to look into these alternative mechanisms.

“The whole crisis has sort of created an awareness among people to have a more progressive supply chain that doesn’t really break very easily,” said Vasudevan Chinnathambi, cofounder at Ninjacart, a B2B and B2C agritech startup. 

Seasonal Supply Chain

Most startups have collection centres located across the country, the farmers growing around these collecting centres can drop their produce when ready. Further explaining, Vasudevan said that once the farmer registers on the platform, the company would check for the quantity and quality, based on the demand, supply and timely basis.   

“Whenever we have a demand in our system, we know that the customer wants to procure mango. We know that these are the collection centres where we have a specific variety of mango and supply that. Later, we start reaching out to these farmers, and procure from them” he added. 

For seasonal produce like mangoes, Vasudevan said that the company sets up temporary collection centres. For instance, it has set up temporary collection centres in Tamil Nadu, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad, where it procures mangoes from the farmers and directly supplies it to the consumers and retailers. 

Besides mangoes, Ninjacart has set up temporary collection centres in Shimla for apples, and in Rajasthan for onions. This, in a way, simplifies the supply chain of seasonal produce in a much more efficient and transparent manner. But there are still challenges on the ground when looking at the big picture. 

“Logically, which farmer knows how to sell it besides the physical mandis. Plus, there are only a handful of them who know how to use mobile phones. That is the reality,” Ali added, “More than anything, the government is very biased towards seasonal produce farmers, and doesn’t consider us as farmers in the first place.”    

With the mandis and APMCs semi-operational, a lot of farmers are looking for alternatives, where they are selling through closed networks, be it directly to customers, societies, local traders, residential properties, etc, which has been working as usual as there isn’t much of an impact.