The Coronavirus pandemic exposed the faultlines in the Indian agricultural market and food supply chain. Without a safety net or savings to fall back upon, the lockdown seemed like a dark nightmare for the farmers. Not just the farmers, but the consumers also weren’t left unexposed to the vulnerabilities in the agricultural supply chain. They were finding it very difficult to secure fresh fruits and vegetables for everyday use. Many complained of having to pay exorbitant prices and low-quality produce being sold to them during the lockdown times. The pandemic led different sectors of the economy to rethink and revamp their supply chains and supply chain management systems.
The growth of agritech startups amidst the pandemic
Surprisingly, the agricultural supply chain has emerged much more resilient during these harsh times, even amidst such challenges. As other sectors were sliding, agriculture became the only sector to record positive growth of 3.4% at constant prices in 2020-21. The growth can be attributed to many agritech startups that have surfaced during these unprecedented times and taken the responsibility of bringing farmers out of this agrarian crisis. The pandemic acted as a catalyst for Indian agritech to innovate and develop business models that could tackle the challenges prevalent in the sector. A variety of new ‘direct from farmers’ models have emerged, leveraging data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, Internet-of-things, SaaS, and more.
For decades, Indian farmers have been using traditional practices when it comes to growing their produce. But the Covid times pushed many of them to turn to tech innovations in order to survive. Technology became an enabler in helping farmers take control of their produce by maximizing the productivity of farms, reducing post-harvest wastage, and most importantly, improving market linkages. Even in pre-covid times, farmers lacked the means to market themselves and reach the end consumer. And this only worsened with the imposition of a lockdown. But many agritech companies took this challenge head-on and approached ‘buy from farmers’ with different delivery models.
Creating market linkages for farmers and consumers
Different startups including Farmsnation helped to make the farmer-to-consumer supply chain more efficient. In 2020, as mandis were shut down and farmers were left stranded, Farmsnation’s co-founder, Shorya Rastogi built a unique web platform and mobile app that allowed farmers to sell their produce online directly to consumers. This came as a respite to many farmers, who had prepared themselves for the misery of throwing away, burning, or feeding their produce to the cattle this season. The platform helped farmers grow their earnings by eliminating the middlemen and giving them e-commerce features to add products, farm pictures, receive payments and manage orders. Given the lockdown restrictions and concerns of social distancing, consumers were anyway hesitant in stepping out to buy their groceries. Farmsnation brought the consumer’s local farmers’ market into the comfort and safety of their homes so that they can buy from farmers directly. And since farmers were directly selling to consumers, the latter was able to purchase fresher and quality produce.
While the idea of consumers buying directly from consumers has been prevalent in the country for a few years now through physical markets, the pandemic has helped expedite and digitize the entire process. Several factors led to this sudden spike in consumer-to-farmer purchase patterns:
- Adoption of healthier life choices- The pandemic pushed consumers to behave differently and adopt a healthier lifestyle. As consumers started spending more and more time at home, and there was growing uncertainty regarding health, there was a renewed focus on switching to healthier, organic, high-quality foods. These networks delivering farm-fresh fruits and vegetables to consumers became the need of the hour.
- The economic hit during a pandemic- The pandemic also led to rising financial concerns amongst the middle classes as all industries and small/medium businesses were impacted. Middle and low-income families faced the biggest budget pinch as vegetable prices rose steeply in the lockdown times. These direct farmer-consumer networks not only benefited the farmers but also helped consumers save on their purchases by eliminating the middlemen’s margins.
- The rise of the sustainability movement- Not just health and economics, consumers also turned to more ethical life choices during this phase. Consumers are more interested in knowing the way their groceries were grown, how much distance the food has traveled, what kind of chemicals are added to it. There is a growing motivation to show support for farmers instead of paying to large supermarket chains. These online networks like Farmsnation also help the consumers find more about where their food was grown, the story of the farmer, how much distance it has traveled. With this rising consciousness and better revenues, farmers are switching to more sustainable methods of production. And buying from local farms is helping the planet with reduced food miles.
In all its entirety, while the lockdown disrupted the food markets, it also helped turn the farm to plate model into reality and alleviate the struggles of farmers. And even as we see the pandemic fading away, these online networks continue to stay relevant and grow exponentially, with consumers and farmers both benefiting highly from it.