‘Experts must learn from Mumbai dhabawallahs on supply management'

“Contrary to popular opinion, the real crisis in Indian agriculture does not stem from poor farming practices, but because of a deficient marketing, supply and distribution chain in the country,” says Mr. Venkat Subramanian, Founder, eFarm solutions, Chennai.

eFarm is a farm-to-home supply chain platform for procuring and delivering farm based produce to consumers . It basically attempts to link farmers, intermediaries, logistics providers, distributors and small time retailers.

Mr. Venkat believes that privatizing Indian agriculture could solve much of the existing marketing problems.

Who controls ?

“Who runs agriculture today?” he asks, “from fixing prices to renting godowns everything comes under government control. The first green revolution took care to increase yield through research.

“The current crisis is on management/planning and marketing that are 'business issues'. But strangely the answers to these problems all these years are being proposed by agriculture scientists. And the gaps are glaring. Bring in professionals,” he says.

A lot of confusion exists between central and state policies on crop produce. “Why do we need a Supreme Court intervention to distribute food to the hungry poor, when intellectuals are harping on achieving food security? In my opinion private entrepreneurs can do a better job in solving the marketing problem than the present government officials,” is his argument.

Most people don't seem to know the full range of issues impacting agriculture, often caught in media hype around farmer suicides.

“Contrary to general opinion a farmer is not poor,” he stresses. “The land he owns (say even 2 acres) may be worth between Rs. 30 lakh to Rs. 3 crore, depending on the distance from main city. Though crop income may be meagre, asset value is not,” he contends.

Nothing comes free

A two-acre farmer can finance himself and doesn't really need aid. “In fact serious farmers shy away from schemes, as it is nothing short of begging from corrupt officials, leaving a lot of ‘pseudo farmers' demanding everything for free. Nothing comes free – the tax payers pay for everything,” says Mr. Venkat.

“Even after several years, our farmers still send their produce to the city in outdated methods. They use bags, sacks, bundles to define their produce and consumers deal in ‘kg', units and grams to purchase. Different products are defined in different weight ranges, for example onions in 50 kg bags, potatoes in 44 kg, tomatoes in 15 kg crates, carrot in 80 kg. Why this difference?” he asks.

Most farmers don't use a weighing machine to measure their produce while selling it to traders. They get cheated mostly in just weight reading itself.

According to him, what our farmers need today is small collection units in every 3-4 villages. A simple covered shelter, weighing machines, crates, small truck for local pickups run by the farmers' group or rural youth to handle value added services such as sorting/grading/processing/transport , and who would earn a better income.

Recognize middlemen

“Interconnect the collection centres with simple technology tools, to gather data and connect to buyers. Enhance the existing unorganized supply chain — recognize the role of middlemen and help them evolve.

“In agriculture, there are hundreds of middlemen right from the vegetable seller, to truckers, wholesalers, agents etc. It is impossible and impractical to just ‘bypass' hundreds of people. By supporting them with bank loans (to setup godowns, trucks, and processing units) we can make them add value to the chain,” he says.

Most of the existing ‘solutions' according to him are products of some urban organizations who are never involved with the farmer in the solution process.

“This leads to worsening of the crisis. If you are trying to help a farmer, ask the farmer himself, rather than policy makers , who don't know the ground situation,” he says.

“Why can't our agriculture experts learn from the World's best example of an efficient supply chain system — Mumbai dhabawallahs, run by illiterate, middle aged people dealing in perishable ‘food' business,” he asks.

No instant solution

For agriculture to become profitable there are no ‘instant food' solutions. The approach needs better planning and co-ordination across different agencies, seems to be Mr. Venkat's conviction.

But questions have also been raised on the role of the middlemen in agriculture and how a cartel can hold poor farmers to ransom.

Government officials argue that it is because of the fear of middlemen that they have to sustain procurement through the season - especially of food grains.

No government wants to leave farmers at the mercy of the middlemen. It cuts both ways.

For more details contact Mr. Venkat Subramanian at email: venky@matchboxsolutions.in and efarm.venky@gmail.com, mobile: 98847 61354, phone:044- 43577236(off) and 24450613 (res).