Retailers farm out training to beef up rural supply chain

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Most sought-after items
Most sought-after items

Bindu D Menon

Debabrata Das

New Delhi, Dec. 15

Sanjay Chauhan, 29, a farmer from Shikarpur village near Gurgaon is showing off his certificate from a farm training programme that he has just attended.

Besides acquiring new skills, he hopes to have a profitable relationship as a supplier with the French retailer Carrefour, which organised the training.

Retailers such as Bharti-Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Reliance are still trying to get their supply chain formula right by roping in farmers as stakeholders. Despite being the biggest names in the trade, these retailers are ploughing rural areas not just to teach innovative farming methods but also trying to find the best suppliers among the lot.

With fresh fruits and vegetables being one of the most sought-after items in a retail store, mega retail chains are going all-out to build a high-quality supply chain.

Carrefour, which is sourcing field-fresh vegetables worth $170 million from India, said it has been working closely with farmers in northern India and training them in global farming practices. In the last six months alone, the number of famers trained by the company has gone up from 800 to 1,500.

"Wherever we have done business, we have worked together with our partners. In this case, farmers are key to our business and we cannot leave them aside. Our future profit will be through our agents (farmers). In most Carrefour stores globally, around 90 per cent of the sold items are locally sourced," Mr Yannick Douville, Fresh Director, Carrefour WC&C India, told Business Line.

Likewise, Bharti Wal-Mart is also building a steady supply chain for fresh farm produce before expanding further. For its store in Amritsar, the company works directly with 65 farmers who yield 15 per cent of the store's farm produce. The store itself caters to more than 35,000 local businesses.

"Fruits and vegetables are key footfall drivers at the stores and retailers would eventually resort to contract farming to secure availability, consistency, quality and price. Our initiative is aimed at helping farmers grow high-quality vegetables and fruits with assistance from the company at each stage of cultivation. We also train farmers on post-harvest technology after which the farmers sell us their produce that we supply to Best Price and EasyDay stores," said Ms Arti Singh, Vice-President, Bharti Wal-Mart.

Reliance Retail, similarly, has trained farmers in the northern and western parts of India. A Reliance spokesperson said, "We are currently working with nearly one lakh farmer families across 4,000 villages in India".

Related Stories:
Mart with a rural heart
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RMAAI releases first rural retail study

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 16, 2009)
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