Mumbai: Organized retailers looking for help in sourcing fresh agricultural produce that matches the like of ITC Ltd’s e-Choupal model, have a new friend to turn to.
US Agency for International Development (USAID) is working to bring farmers and retailers together on a common platform using information and communication technology that will help farmers improve their productivity and supply produce as per the retailers demands.
That’s under USAID’s growth-oriented micro-enterprise development programme (GMED).
“We are in serious discussions with Metro Cash & Carry, Tata Chemicals and FieldFresh Foods, a joint venture between Bharti Enterprises and UK finance group Rothschild, in organizing farmer production bases and integrating these into the retailers’ fresh produce supply chain”, said Donald Taylor, India GMED programme manager.
Retailers Association of India chief executive Gibson Vedamani said, “until the retailers gain enough scale of operations, contract farming may not help much. Models like this, in association with farmers, would allow just-in-time produce management without wastages and meet farmer expectations in terms of pricing and procurement.”
GMED is working with ACDI/VOCA, Washington-based development consultants, to manage the India programme. Its models would consist of a complete supply-chain management system that will electronically link all elements, starting with retailers through transporters, farmers, input suppliers and other supply-chain participants. The system will enable farmers to produce to meet specific retailer demand, input suppliers to provide production and other inputs as needed, and post-harvest and other service providers to accurately schedule their services. “The system will also include provisions for accurate farmer record keeping, enabling effective traceability and crop planning and scheduling,” said Taylor.
GMED is already working with ITC to connect it with 500 vegetable farmers spread over Punjab, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh who are being trained in production and post-harvest practices. This ensures that the farmers find a ready outlet for their produce even as USAID works on improving the productivity and quality of the farm output.
ACDI/VOCA claims the average increase in productivity for the farmers in all these pilot clusters has been around 40-45%. Normally, this may have caused a glut and a drop in prices, but with ready demand from ITC, farmers have an incentive to up their output.
“Two of the major gaps in today’s Indian fresh produce value chain are the lack of convenient access by farmers to technical and market information and the absence of effective supply chain management systems. We are currently preparing an ITC-enabled application similar to e-Choupal to help Indian retailers fill the gaps,” said Taylor.
Realizing that not all organized retail organizations may want to follow the ITC example and prefer an intermediary to fill this role instead, GMED is assisting the Nandani Cooperative of vegetable, grape and sugar-cane farmers in Maharashtra to upgrade production and marketing capabilities of its 5,400 members. “This will enable the cooperative to play the part of an effective intermediary serving the fresh produce needs of the organized retail industry and will create a successful model for others to replicate,” said Taylor.