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Vegetable Pilot Project at Lalmonirhaat
iFarmer is the first digital agriculture platform of the country focused on linking interested sponsors/ funders with farmers to support livestock, fish, vegetables & fruits farming while promoting inclusive growth in livestock and agriculture. iFarmer has been financing the livestock rearing process among farmers for a couple of years now. While it was scaling up steadily, a major segment of the farmers’ agricultural portfolio was yet to be explored, vegetables. Vegetable cultivation is amongst one of the main income sources for the farmers. Realizing the potential, iFarmer decided to push forward with the input and capital project for vegetables. Before launching the vegetable project in Robi season, a pilot has been designed for Kharif 2 season, in order to appropriately understand the needs of the rural farmers in context of vegetable farming.
To start the pilot project the first question that needed to be answered was which products to choose from the vast variety of vegetables. To get a better idea about it, iFarmer planned to conduct 7 Focus Group Discussions containing 8 farmers in each across Bidyabagish and Bogachira villages of Borobari Union of Lalmonirhaat District. The qualitative assessments were aimed at understanding the crop of choice amongst farmers for ‘Kharif 2’ season. Across the 7 FGDs, five crops were named by most of the farmers – Dhoniya, Raddish, Brinjal, Bitter Gourd, and Bottle Gourd. Among the FGD participants 30 farmers were selected for the piloting phase.
Following the investigation stage, the local input suppliers were contacted to understand the value chain of inputs. The local dealers of fertilizer, pesticides and weedicides were contacted for quotations. The field team could ensure 10% to 15% discount on each of the inputs. The discount was passed to the farmers, and across the board, farmers are expecting an increase in profit due to the sizable discount arranged for them. For the ones who requested for additional capital support for irrigation and leasing purposes, a 10% flat interest rate was charged for six months, with the payments to be made during the harvesting weeks.
In the process, 30% of the fertilizers were sourced from the last mile inputs suppliers, thus supporting the rural businesses without hampering the ecosystem. Along with inputs, advisory service was arranged by coordinating with the input dealers. The input dealers provided iFarmer with agriculture specialists to monitor the progress of crops and train the farmers in best practices. The specialist is scheduled to visit the farmers twice a week. Beyond that, iFarmer team is currently running a comprehensive monitoring process, through which besides the progress in the agricultural process, further details on their land, soil fertility and financial condition is being collected to help the core team design ‘crop insurance’ package for the farmers.
After the pilot project was conducted, iFarmer found some interesting observations which were very useful for designing their upcoming plans for vegetable farms.
Branded Seed vs Local Seed: Farmers show resistance to buying branded seed as the prices of those are 3 to 10 times more expensive than the local varieties. The farmers are skeptical if the additional payment will pay off. However, they are open to buying expensive alternatives at a discounted price. In case of fertilizer and pesticide and weedicides they are willing to buy expensive alternatives with marginal discount.
Interest towards new options: Farmers were excited about the prospect of iFarmer buying the products. Because it reduces transportation costs for them and the hessle along with it. However, some of them want to opt into the input supply provision only because the brand loyalty towards iFarmer is yet to be built.
Overall, the pilot was successful in terms of learning the prospects of vegetable farms and the obstacles towards setting it up. The learning has helped iFarmer to design their upcoming products in the Robi season.
Way ahead – ‘Robi 2020’
In the process of the pilot and by the end of it, iFarmer aims to have acquired the necessary resources to go for a broad vegetable portfolio, which has high scalable potential. The data collection to choose the top 8 products for the upcoming ‘Robi’ season has started. Big agricultural input companies are being on board for large orders of fertilizer and pesticides procurement, necessary for the Robi season. Meanwhile, the insurance companies have confirmed their interest to ensure the capital and production of the investors and the farmers respectively. Market linkages facilitation is in progress as major vegetable procuring companies have placed their orders in advance for the vegetables. With these exciting developments, iFarmers will soon be launching their annual vegetable farm portfolio, with a potential of USD 1 million to be invested over a year. Thus, this product is uniquely placed to scale up the number of farmers and the volume of investment at the same time.