In conversation with Srinivas Chekuri from Gramodaya Trust

Gramodaya Trust is one of the active FPOs in Andhra Pradesh. It was a great opportunity for us to get in touch with Mr. Srinivas Chekuri, chairman of Gramodaya Trust, and get in a candid conversation about the great works of his farmer partners.

Gramodaya Trust has been one of the active FPCs. Would you like to elaborate more on this and about yourself?

Gramodaya Trust was formed in 2015 after the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh with the vision to empower the farmers in the newly formed state. This was done after a thorough study of the problems, possible solutions that can be incorporated at the farm-gate, thereby doubling the income of the farmers and increase employment opportunities. Since the incorporation, we have been working towards this goal and we believe we can do our part to increase the livelihood of our farmer friends.

Mr. Srinivas Chekuri interacting with the fish farmers and shareholders of Kolleru Aqua FPC Limited

How did the lockdown affect the supply chain in your FPO?

The unprecedented and the sudden lockdown has had aggravated the problems of farmers here because it coincided with the harvesting period of our major crops, particularly fruits and vegetables, like mangoes and banana. The imposed lockdown resulted in a labour scarcity, and hence harvesting of such crops took a hit. Whatever was harvested could not be sold to the target markets because many villages went for a self-imposed lockdown. Self-imposed lockdown meant that all roads connecting to the local villages were blocked. This would mean that the harvested mangoes and bananas need to be transported to distant markets: and we sent the mangoes to Vashi in Mumbai, bananas to Azadpur Mandi in Delhi, and fishes were directed to West Bengal. However, due to limited movement at the state-borders, we faced a lot of wastage of these perishables.

How did Gramodaya reach out to the citizens of Eluru during the lockdown?

Looking at this situation wherein we were not being able to map the large harvest in the farm to the markets, we thought of a way in which we could support our farmers. Because you see, farmers had invested money in their produce and the whole community was struggling to find out ways in which we could give back to the farmers. This problem was unique because we faced obstacles at both the demand and the supply sides. Distant markets were tough to connect given the operational hurdles and transportation obstacles, resulting in the withdrawal of the traders. Again, in the urban areas, most of the wards were under containment zone and the citizens were barred from getting out of their homes to buy the essentials.

We consulted with the farmers and our supporting organizations closely, and after internalization of the problems associated, Gramodaya came up with a strategy. In order to de-risk the spread of the viral infection, we came up with customized models that can be delivered at the doorsteps of the civilians. This provided an opportunity to capture the local market because we thought that some of the produce can be sold locally.

The vegetable kit, carefully designed by Gramodaya Trust

We designed vegetable kits and identified volunteers who can execute the idea. Since this is a health emergency, it was a priority for us to train the volunteers and make them adept in aligning with the Government issued health advisories and guidelines. We provided them with face masks and gloves, making sure that they use sanitizers frequently. We planned and packaged the fruits and vegetables in small packets keeping in mind the FnVs necessary for increasing the immunity of a person and delivered the same at the doorsteps. We followed this model throughout the lockdown and prevented the farmers to resort to “distress sales” as the prices were plummeting each day at the farm-gate. Apart from fruits, vegetables, and fishes, we also sold cocoa beans during the lockdown.

Gramodaya Trust onboarded volunteers trained them and with their help, reached out to the customers at the doorsteps, with their vegetable kit

Given the COVID19 situation, the whole food supply chain is being re-engineered. What are your views on the same? What are the major areas you feel innovations should happen?

Handling vegetables, fruits, and fishes during the lockdown was tough as the obstacles that the lockdown brought with itself was challenging. Previously, perishables like FnVs and fishes were transported in volumes to distant markets. However, with the lockdown, the whole supply chain was disrupted. We were now working with volumes of a couple of tonnes. At this scale, affordable cold chain solutions play a major role. This is because; most of the bulk cold storages’ and the processing units were closed down. In order to cater to the small volumes of perishables, we worked together to deploy your cost-effective Tan90 portable cold chain solutions for the transportation of the perishables, particularly fishes. Tan90 units fitted well with our requirements and our vegetable kit model, wherein the storage units could be placed easily at the back of the bikes and carried directly to the doorsteps of the consumers. With an affordable cold chain in place, we were able to sell our produce, be it fruits, vegetables, or fishes.

Gramodaya Trust partnered with Tan90 to provide shrimps and prawns to the customers with the help of two-wheelers, in a temperature-controlled way.

Apart from cold storage, innovations in the retail door-delivery model would be pivotal in the new supply chain for connecting the farms directly to the customers. Collecting information from the consumers while mapping the demand on a real-time basis would be helpful. Providing such information through online routes to the FPOs is necessary. A demand-driven approach coupled with the serviceable geographies would help us to reach out to the customers easily. Such technologies should be easily integrated and made affordable.

With the help of NABARD, procurement and distribution of dry cocoa beans were made possible by Gramodaya Trust, even in the lockdown. In the picture, second from left: Mr. Srinivas Chekuri.

The finance ministry has rolled out several steps to bolster the farming ecosystem in India. How do you think the steps should be executed at the farm level?

Firstly, we welcome the moves by the Government of India by announcing the Atmanirbhar package for the farming community. They have made very relevant announcements coupled with earmarked budgets. A couple of things that I would like to quote here is that the Government should now provide impetus to food processing units. Giving you an example, for our fishes here, setting up of such processing units at the farm level would add more value to the product. This is because we observed that during the lockdown, preference for processed foods was increased by the customers. Now once we focus on processed foods, the whole supply chain changes, the consumers and the customers are different personalities.

At the ground level, the FPOs should be linked with technology providers and the technologies have to be made available at the grassroots and the SHG levels. Low cost and affordable technologies at the farm level are the requirements now. This is important, because, we work with average volumes of perishables, which is common with most of the FPOs. Farms dealing with large volumes can afford cold storage units, but those whose regular output is 1–2 tonnes can afford low-cost storage facilities. Such technology providers should be identified, supported, and showcased over a platform so that their solutions can be made available to all the FPOs in the country.

Importance of setting up food processing plants at the farm level. Women-driven SHG of Kolleru Aqua FPC Ltd. making prawn pickle as a value-added product.

We are changing the cold chain in India, box by box!