V.G. Lakshmipriyan is still cashing in on the time he spent at Bharti Walmart from 2010 to 2014. Taking cue from the initiatives connecting farmers to Walmart stores, he launched FarmFolks in 2015 to provide farmers, particularly the banana growers in Mysuru region, critical quality inputs for their produce.
FarmFolks guides farmers through their crop cycle, from the time the soil is prepared till harvesting. Though it started as an aggregation model at the farm gate, Lakshmipriyan soon decided to cover areas such as the cost of cultivation and increasing output. “Now, we are into providing critical inputs, giving farm advisories through mobile apps and getting farms certified for global good agricultural practices, which eventually helps them get a better price for their produce,” says Lakshmipriyan. FarmFolks has signed an agreement with the Karnataka government to bring more farmers on its platform. Similar initiatives have been launched with pineapple growers in Kerala and with farmers in the Nilgiris for carrots, potatoes, broccoli and lettuce.
Lakshmipriyan, who studied at the Kerala Agricultural University and then completed post-graduation from the Institute of Rural Management in Anand, Gujarat, has also signed up with a company to provide loans to member farmers to fund their initial cost of seeds, sowing material and other expenses on the condition that the loan will be recovered at harvest time.
Lakshmipriyan is also making technological interventions to enable growers to save at least 15 per cent in cultivation cost, besides savings in transportation and benefits from doing away with middlemen.
“The most critical factor in a farmer’s value chain is that he wants immediate payment while the customer would take an average of 25 days to make the payment to FarmFolks. This creates a huge working capital gap,” says Lakshmipriyan. That is changing with clients willing to change their outlook and look at growers as “long-term associates”.
“We are implanting FarmERP (a farm management software) to ensure that clients get information on the farmer/farm supplying the produce by using a QR code,” explains Lakshmipriyan. “It will also give details about the farmer and his practices. This will be particularly useful for clients who are sensitive about the safety of the food they consume.” Besides online retailers, FarmFolks already supplies to organised retail chains in Bengaluru. Lakshmipriyan is confident about having a presence in the farming regions of all southern states as well as sales in the southern cities in the next three years.