There are two ways to react to a crisis, either lie down low or let the storm pass and then pick the remains to begin a new life, or brave up to the storm and steer the boat and sail to new horizons. Well, it seems that from amongst the scores of Farmers Producers Organizations (FPOs) which have been promoted in the country during last decade through various governmental interventions, quite a large number of FPOs have decided to sail in the storm. The storm being referred to here is the lockdown that has happened all across the country as a follow up of COVID 19 which has brought supply side of the chain to a grinding halt.
Most of the FPOs who specialize as aggregators of vegetables have stepped on the pedal and have occupied the space left behind by the retails chains and vendors to supply vegetables at the doorstep of the consumers. This after all was the ultimate objective of promotion of FPOs- to encourage the farmer members to step in the market and sell their produce on their own which is a product of sweat and blood on their own to the end consumers.By stepping into the arena, which otherwise was dominated by the commission agents, farmers are also learning the marketing nuances and value proposition of the product pricing.
FPOs have been facilitated by 3 step policy pronouncement by the government through e-NAM that includes:
1. FPO Module whereby the FPOs can upload picture and quality parameters of their produce at their own collection center and avail bidding facility without bringing produce to APMCs. Produce can be delivered from their collection center to the respective end consumers.
2. Warehouse Module: farmers storing their produce in WDRA registered warehouses (declared as deemed market by State) can sell their produce through eNAM from the warehouse.
3. Logistic module: linking large aggregators’to a logistic platform,whereby trader can avail trucking facility of their choice from variety of options. This will strengthen inter-state and inter-mandi trade on eNAM.
FPOs are also ensuring price stabilization by announcing the price of the produce a day before the supply date to the consumers and the experimentation that was initiated in Kothrud in Pune is being followed by other FPOs in different parts of the country. Whatsapp groups have been created between the resident associations and FPO suppliers which ensures proper delivery at the doorstep of the consumer without stepping out and violating the lockdown.
Fatehabad district in Harayana has gone one step ahead to ground this initiative and has come out with detailed list of FPOs supplying vegetables. This is a monumental step forward for App aggregators to have an exhaustive list of all the FPOs working in a district and integrate with them to facilitate smart optimization of the whole value chain through cutting edge of technology focusing on the aggregation of demand as the farmers have taken the initiative to understand demand. Their efforts need consolidation and it can only be provided by the startups which are focusing on agriculture.
For sure, the middleman who was the sole purchaser of agri-produce, especially vegetables would have a nightmare once the lockup lifts as the farmers through FPOs have now get an assured clientele. FPOs are also being facilitated by the academic institutions like ICAR-IIHR, Bengaluru, who understanding the logistic stumbling block that the farmers are facing have taken the step forward to provide free technical support and share the protocols to all the FPOs for processing of their produce. The whole idea of this initiative on the part of the institute is to encourage the FPOs to use this opportunity to adopt food processing in a big way for obtaining a competitive advantage as also obtain higher shelf life for their products- icing on the cake being backed by technology of a reputed institute that would provide a unique USP for the produce. Lab to field initiative of this kind is one of the first time initiatives.
This lock down has also underscored for FPOs like Terai Fresh in Pilibhit-UP and Khushal Vegetable Growers Association in Ludhiana to gain foothold in local market. Both these FPOs have started supplying locally and have found out that there margins have increased as they are selling it locally without incurring any logistic cost. Same is the experience of Puthari FPO in Coorg, which has been further facilitated by the Panchayat by providing them selling space free of cost in Panchayat premises.
Dr. Harminder Singh, who is the President of Khushal FPO, Ludhiana informs that earlier they were selling their vegetables through an outlet in PAU (Punjab Agriculture University) Ludhiana and had created a brand equity of selling organic vegetables. Now that the villagers from their own villages have started buying from them, the members of the FPOs feel redeemed as they are helping their brethren indirectly to graduate to organic vegetables and thereby facilitating in increasing their health quotient.
This indeed is a positive step forward that FPOs have taken and now they are looking towards technology aggregators to hand hold them and help them organize their produce business in much structured manner.