FarmPal Technologi has made agriculture beneficial to growers and consumers during lockdown
Growing up in a farming family in Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra, Karan Hon has personally experienced the travails of Indian agriculture. “There was a lot of poverty in my village, because farmers used expensive traditional practices for cultivation, but never got the right price for their crop. There was no transparency in the wholesale market’s pricing. I found that disappointing,” says Hon over phone.
So in 2017, Hon, who graduated in Mechanical Engineering, decided to quit his 20-year career in leading corporate companies and co-founded FarmPal Technologi in Pimpri-Chinchwad, Maharashtra, with Puneet Sethi and Ganesh Hon. Their aim: making agriculture beneficial for both farmer and consumer.
Supplying fruits and vegetables to Pune and Mumbai, besides supermarkets in Karnataka, FarmPal wants to bring a more level playing field for growers, sellers and consumers.
“In the traditional market and supply chain model, middlemen are taking away all the benefits. Farmers don’t get even one-third of what the consumer is actually paying for the produce. This is where agri-tech startups can help,” he says.
Payments are made electronically to the farmer, ensuring financial security. FarmPal used the lockdown to create employment opportunities as well. “When our regular employees got stranded in their hometowns, we found a solution by asking construction workers nearby to join us as helpers for sorting, grading and delivery,” Hon says.
The other step was to get the public involved in distribution. “We reached out to apartments and building societies, and formed partnerships with residents to collect orders from their building and pass them on to us. We make a contact-less dispatch to the tenant partner, who would then be responsible for last-mile delivery,” he says.
With no investment required by the distributors, this model has helped partners, mostly homemakers, senior citizens and the newly unemployed during lockdown, earn ₹20,000 to ₹25,000 in shared revenue with FarmPal. Over 1,000 families in Pune have been covered by the project, which is being also tested in Mumbai.
Even before the lockdown, agri-tech companies had begun streamlining fresh produce procurement and sales in the country.
According to a 2019 NASSCOM report, India has more than 450 agri-tech start-ups growing at a rate of 25% annually. These companies have boomed during the lockdown as they have been able to quickly step into the breach created by the dismantling of the traditional market-supply chain.
FarmPal’s business has grown at 50% year-on-year, with a network of over 2,000 farmers and produce sourced from western Maharashtra and central Madhya Pradesh.
“We had some problems soon after the lockdown’s announcement in March, but eventually, since we already had the technology, we were able to deal with the disruption. We called up the farmers and reassured them that we would take their produce to the consumer even though the markets were closed,” says Hon.
Besides fulfilling orders in Pune and Mumbai, FarmPal also managed to export fresh produce to West Asian countries during critical periods of the lockdown. “Before COVID, we used to sell 15 to 20 tonnes of fruits and vegetables daily. In the early stages of lockdown, it dropped to 10-12 tonnes. Now we are returning to our earlier range,” says Hon.
Hon says the pandemic has brought about a sea change in the attitudes of both growers and consumers. “Consumers are now accustomed to expecting high levels of hygiene and nutrition in their food. This means that the amount of chemical fertilisers and pesticides used in agriculture should be controlled,” he says.
Technology will help track the life cycle of crops, from planting to harvest, hopefully making it easier to gauge its safety, says Hon. “We are working on collecting the data and explaining it to the consumer. The pandemic has taught us that we have to change the way we eat.”