Edvin Varghese, the creator of the ‘farmer’s social network’ – Mandi Trades, which is nominated for the mBillionth Award, believes the time to leverage the power of technology in agricultural marketing is now. India’s farmers have long been denied fair, competitive prices for their produce. Exploitative middlemen practices have eroded the benefits of mandis or local agricultural markets organised by the government to help farmers get a fair price for their produce. This has also led to the government’s recent directive to do away with wholesale markets and consequently the middlemen too. Farmers are now free to sell their produce directly to the end buyer a lot of which is happening on various e-platforms and even m-platforms set up to enhance the options of buyers available to them.
Mandi Trades, a Farm to Shop (F2S) platform was created to help farmers market their produce in a timely manner. Edvin, who launched this app under the company Farmobi Technologies Private Limited wanted farmers to have access to more buyers and to subsequently give buyers direct access to farmers. Since this app can be accessed by anyone, bulk buyers like hotels, caterers, exporters, food processors, retail supermarkets can source farm fresh produce directly from the farmers for the best prices they can settle on.
Evolution of Mandi Trades
Edvin, an engineer from Bangalore, who has worked in technology for over 20 years in companies like Sun Microsystems, IBM and Oracle comes from a farming background and his family owns farmlands. He and his friends who also owned farmland lamented the lack of information available on farming including commodity prices. They spoke to a number of farmers about the challenges they faced in marketing their produce which was around the same time that the government was experimenting with the idea of making available commodity prices in an xml format on its platform data.gov.in.
This is when Edvin created the first app called Mandi Prices which simply disseminated the government’s pricing information on a wider scale. He did not anticipate the tremendous response this simple app would garner with small scale traders and farmers from far-flung places requesting more data. Unfortunately since Mandi Prices was merely passing on information from data.gov.in they could not oblige additional data requests. It did inform him about people’s eagerness to use technology to access necessary information if it could be made available.
Thus was born Mandi Trades which leverages smartphone features like GPS, routes, photos and videos to create a cloud platform to enable farmers to sell to consumers directly on an app. He describes the evolution,
From Mandi Prices we moved on to Mandi trades. We created this whole online platform where people can post location-based data of what they want to sell and other people can find that data.”
Farmers Are Tech-savvy!
The app, available on Android, iOS and Windows, boasts features like price alerts, agricultural news, government mandi prices with information available in Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi and English. It is currently used widely across south and west India and parts of the northern states. The app’s popularity has spread through word of mouth as each farmer experienced the benefits first hand. Farmers have adopted Mandi Trades quickly, with the youth in these farming communities leading the way. He says,
All farmers are entrepreneurs by default but they lack opportunities and we restrict their market through vested interests and for other interests. If we open markets and increase their opportunities, they will do well. Technology is never a barrier for farmers, they learn and are willing to adopt technology.”
Large scale buyers are excited about getting more farmers and sellers on to the app to increase the variety of produce available as well as to make the pricing more dynamic. Edvin hopes to have more than one crore people interacting on it. Created with the feel of social network, Mandi Trades facilitates price discovery through discussion. Easy access to information he believes is the key to resolving supply chain disparity.
Network Farmers to Empower Them
Looking forward, Edvin who receives great support from his wife Seena and business partner Murthy, believes the Digital India initiative will be a game changer in terms of ensuring that people who work on farms get the maximum benefit for their product by reaching out to the people who need it. This initiative coupled with the expected rollout of 4G spectrum could improve smartphone penetration especially in east and north-east India which will help bring people from this region on to the app as well. This is the second phase for Mandi Trades which includes creating awareness through roadshows, advertising and reaching out to communities. He is currently on the look out for investors to fund this next phase of growth and hopes winning the mBillionth Award will help.
Besides winning other awards like Microsoft’s Code For Honor, Mandi Trades has also garnered a lot of international attention with Thailand and Cameroon showing interest in creating something similar in their countries. Considering that India is the leader of developing countries Edvin is focused on solving India’s problems first with more government support.