When Sanjay Borkar and his friend Santosh Shinde were studying computer engineering in the mid-1990s in the city of Pune, they would agonise over the distress of their farmer folks in their native Maharashtra village.
Often, profits from their produce would be marginal, so much so that once they simply threw away a harvest of tomatoes.
The gross mismanagement in India’s archaic food supply chain was appalling and they were convinced that the answer to the problems was technology.
“But in those days it was very tough to think of bringing IT (Information Technology) to agriculture,” says Borkar.
However, at the turn of the century, they got their chance while working on a Maharashtra government multimedia project for farmers. One thing led to another, leading to the formation of their company, FarmERP, whereby using Enterprise Resource Planning they could help a bunch of grape growers in Nashik meet quality certification for buyers in Europe.
“We thought if we have to bring professionalism into farming, why not bring in ERP the way companies do to improve their productivity and profitability,” says Borkar.
Two decades later, their footprint now runs across India as well as 25 other countries, where they provide similar technology tools to legions of farmers through farmer groups and companies who need agriculture inputs,
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In the last three-four months, when the pandemic-induced nationwide lockdown upended transport and paralysed wholesale markets leaving farmers wondering what to do with their produce, Borkar had an answer for those connected to his platform.
“This covid situation came so untimely. The harvest was ready and the farmers could not even go out to the fields. Even if they went, they could not harvest due to shortage of workers, And if they managed to harvest the produce with the help of family members, they could not transport it to the cities,” Borkar said.
“Those who could transport to the cities found that the mandis were closed, so the question was how to make it available to the consumer.”
E-commerce has a role to play
Farm ERP stepped in to engage with end-consumers in big cities to enable them to sell them directly, orders for which could be placed through their e-commerce platform. “That actually helped them to increase profits,” he said. “We also have our own consumer site app now to connect different dots in the entire agriculture supply chain.”
From farm plots of 5 acres to a maximum of 23,000 hectares, FarmERP works across the spectrum, relying mainly on a Business to Business model with companies and other groups to reach farmers. While big corporates rely on FarmERP’s platform to connect to millions of farmers affiliated to them, other smaller groups also depend on them for advisory and consultation.
Agronomists based out of faraway locations consult farmers remotely on the best practices for cultivation of a crop. Farm ERP has tied up with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), National Grape Research Institute and the International Crops research Institute for the Semi-arid and Tropics (ICRISAT).
Borkar says the end goal is to marry technology with the best scientific advice available to help farmers improve their crop productivity.