From farm to the plate

By Aishwarya Iyer

Breaking the middleman chain

In the booming start-up industry of Bangalore, new organisations in the city are helping farmers by sourcing their agricultural produce directly to their customers, eliminating the bridge of agents who surge the pricing of the produce.

An inception of three gardening enthusiasts, who are professionally IT engineers, was found in July 2015. Srivatsa TS, Lakshminarayan Srinivasaiah and Anil Nadig, came together to form the start-up when they realised their common passions. “I wanted to indulge in rooftop gardening. I met Srinivasaiah and Nadig at a terrace gardening event called Oota from thota. After a few years of knowing each other and our similar interest, we thought of taking the rooftop-gardening a step further and decided to provide services to the agriculture and the farming community.”

Srinivasaiah, an admirer of the development journalist P.Sainath and motivated by Dr. Vishwanath, the pioneer of rooftop gardening says, “I saw a documentary of P.Sainath called Nero’s Guests and was inspired. Since I loved gardening, I started growing vegetables. Once I began, I realised how difficult it was. That made us think how much the farmers get paid, especially with the number of farmer suicides.

They started as a small idea trying to gain momentum and funds. Cutting off the middlemen from the system that functions and is dominant in the country, it took the founders a while to begin their pilot project.

“Nobody wants transparency in business,” says Srinivasaiah. Hence, the founders invested their personal savings and also received donations from close family and friends that help them to proceed and develop the idea that was still taking its shape. We found that the agents who acted as middlemen in the entire process, exploited the farmers and went on minting money,” says Srinivasaiah.
Teaming up with the NGO Garden City, they operate from the IIM-B campus, under the insitute’s Nadathur S Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL) start-up incubation cell that supports unique ideas of entrepreneurship.

They network with over 1,300 farmers across the villages in and around Pune, Madurai, Mysore, Western Ghats of Karnataka, Sirsi, Bellari and many more. The produce is then collected in the respective villages and shipped to the local pick-up centres. Around 50 to 60 per cent of the market price goes to the farmer, whereas in the usual process with the middlemen involved, farmers gain only 20 to 25 per cent of the total price.  

“An important factor that works in our entire model is the trust that we build with our farmers. There lies our core. Without that, the entire concept is meaningless,” says Srivatsa. They focus to maintain their company under the category of social enterprise, looking at profits at the same time.

The delivery of their products happens twice a month through their online portal. “Our customers have to plan in advance as in what they need for the next month,” says Srivatsa TS.

Why are the farmers not able to sustain on their income? What were the flaws in the supply chain? Such questions set the founders on a journey of understanding farmers and their methods of cultivation, and sourcing their organic, chemical-free produce to the customers.
The team conducts many workshops on educating our audience,” says Srivatsa. Anil delivers talks and lectures on nutrition and health, Srinivasaiah uses content as a tool and therefore, writes blogs on the website to educate their customers and promote the work.
John Ittera, one of their patrons, says that the start-up has changed his food consumption patterns and provided a feasible, healthier option. “Jivabhumi has successfully changed my food habits to healthier option by including millets. I have replaced rice with millet’s in one meal everyday after a trial with the company’s products.”

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