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In a bid to sell their produce during lockdown, farmers establish direct link with consumers

Divya Sreedharan | Updated on May 08, 2020 Published on May 08, 2020

In the neighbourhood: Fruit and vegetables sold at the farmers’ market in Doddanekkundi   -  IMAGE COURTESY: VINUTHA SHANTIRAJ

Hit by lockdown but aided by technology, fruit growers in Bengaluru reach out to city residents in apartment complexes and gated societies to sell their produce

It is turning out to be a summer of discontent the world over and for farmers in particular. With the country under lockdown, farmers have struggled to market their produce, and many have even had to destroy their crops. In this bleak scenario, some fruit growers in and around Bengaluru are trying to make the best of the situation.

Summer is when Indians relish fruits — musk melon, pineapple, watermelon, grape, and, of course, mango. But with traditional fruit markets closed because of restrictions imposed following the spread of the novel coronavirus, farmers are thinking up innovative ways to get their produce to the customers. And they are relying on technology — social media and e-commerce systems — to directly reach customers in apartment complexes and residential colonies, especially in Bengaluru.

“We drive from Ramanagara [about 50km away] to Bengaluru almost every day to deliver mangoes. Our minimum requirement is that the order must at least be for 100 boxes of 3 kilos each,” says Manju Gowda, a mango grower.

For the past two-three weeks, he has been delivering boxes of mangoes — raspuri, mallika, alphonso to eager Bengalureans who live in apartment complexes, gated communities and residential societies across the city. “We get the necessary permits (for transportation) from the police. So far, we have had no problems,” Gowda says.

For orchardists such as Gowda, WhatsApp and other social messaging platforms are a godsend. Mango-loving Bengalureans spread the word to their contacts and friends about the availability of the fruit. Facebook is another key asset — the residents are using the site to share the contact details of farmers desperately trying to sell their crop. There are localised WhatsApp and FB groups for ‘farmers’ markets’ in the city.

IT professional Vinutha Shantiraj lives in Doddanekkundi, Bengaluru North, and is part of one such group. Every weekend, there is a farmers’ market in her area. “We get naati (local or native variety) eggs, vegetables and fruits, including grapes from Devanahalli. Everything is sold at a fixed rate — ₹35 to ₹50 per kg.” Shantiraj says the residents also get truckloads of fruits from farmers in other parts of Karnataka. “Recently, we bought big juicy pineapples (each piece weighing 2 kg) from a grower in Sagar, Shimoga district,” she says.

The weekend farmers’ markets in Doddanekkundi are impeccably organised by Kiran Mishra, who works with farming groups and communities. He uses WhatsApp to ensure social distancing too. Time slots are scheduled well in advance and the apartment complexes and gated communities are given a timeline so that there is no rush at the makeshift market spot. “The order to be followed is texted to the customers. And once the farmer comes, we follow the order — 30 minutes for each apartment. The order is shuffled every time so that each one gets to go first sometime or the other. Volunteers also ensure social distancing,” Shantiraj adds.

Shantiraj herself has formed other WhatsApp groups to coordinate bulk buying of fruits. “I create groups with the farmer concerned, share the link with my own residential community and set up another link with apartment complexes in the neighbourhood. We order 100-200kg or more, so that it is viable for the farmer to bring a truckload,” she explains.

Technology, new and old

This lockdown has also seen the melding of technology, new and old. An e-commerce platform (karsirimangoes.karnataka.gov.in) set up for Karnataka State Mango Development and Marketing Corporation (KSMD&MCL), the government-run mango board, has seen a boom in the sale of the fruit. This is vital because farmers across the state grow many varieties ranging from alphonso, Banganapalle, dasheri, raspuri, mulgoba, totapuri, kesar, neelum, mallika, amrapali, imam pasand and senthoora. Using the e-commerce site, customers can sign up to order 3kg boxes of the variety they want. Boxes are then mailed to their home address via the India Post.

At your doorstep: A box of raspuri mangoes ordered through the state mango board’s marketplace and delivered by India Post   -  IMAGE COURTESY: DIVYA SREEDHARAN

 

Amita Pandey’s company, Advant Techservices, has set up the online mango marketplace for KSMD&MCL. “So far, 27,144kg have been sold in Bengaluru via the site. Alphonso is the most popular variety,” she explains. Pandey is also coordinating sales to residential communities and complexes. “Till date, we have linked up with over 42 apartment complexes. Farmers (registered with the state mango board) then deliver truckloads to these complexes and gated communities,” she adds.

Mounting losses

Not all stories are happy ones, however. For instance, orange farmers from Washim, Maharashtra, ended up in despair. recently, when the farmers reached Bengaluru, they realised their truckloads of oranges (that normally arrive in 48 hours or less) were stuck en route for eight days or so. About 80 per cent of the produce had rotted by the time the vehicles arrived. And the farmers had no way to recoup their losses. Kiran Mishra helped them sell oranges in places such as Doddanekkundi. He then dropped them off at the state border. But they had no transport to get back home to Washim. They ended up walking for 17 days, a distance of over 1,000km. For some, this remains a bitter harvest.

Apples from Tons Valley

Places such as Uttarakhand that are heavily dependent on tourism are hard hit by the lockdown. No tourism means no income. So, Anand Sankar, a journalist from Bengaluru who now runs Tons Trails, a sustainable tourism project in the Tons Valley, Uttarakhand, is trying to help. Using WhatsApp and FB, Sankar is urging people across India to order apples from the valley. “We work with 30-40 families directly and some 100 families indirectly,” he says. Customers can place their orders (on https://www.tons.travel/apples), pay 50 per cent of the cost in advance and the rest when the apples are delivered post the harvest in July. The boxes will be sent via courier service provider Gati and India Post parcel services.

Divya Sreedharan is a Bengaluru-based journalist

Published on May 08, 2020

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