How farmers in Karnataka are using WhatsApp to connect with consumers
news Friday, April 24, 2015 - 05:30
Do you wish that you could check out the vegetables and fruits that you want to buy sitting at home? Well, it is already a reality in Belagavi, Karnataka. Three HOPCOMS stores and consumers have now formed a group on WhatsApp where the store owners send details of newly arrived produce along with images. HOPCOMS or Horticultural Producersâ€™ Co-operative Marketing is an initiative that was started in 1959 to ensure Karnataka farmers were able to market their produce directly to consumers, thus eliminating the middlemen. But in recent years, the organisation has seen a fall in getting fresh fruits and vegetables owing to the competition from retail chains. HOPCOMS Managing Director, Belgaum, Shamantha K N took the lead to revamp the failing initiative which also succumbed to a lack of proper management. For a few years, HOPCOMS was leased out to private shopkeepers and they observed that the functionality had worsened. It is then that he decided HOPCOMS would to take over these stores and manage it on their own. Renovation with a modern touch and vibrant display of banners has given it a fresh appeal to shoppers. Vegetables and fruits are purchased directly from the farmers at market price. Usually, the middlemen are involved in such transaction taking about 10% from the farmers as commission. But farmers here take home the entire sum. Additionally, to ensure that the farmers are not cheated, the stores have electronic weighing machine which measure accurately. The market price of the produce is also fed into the system which automatically calculates the price up to the very last gram along with a computerised bill, he explained. "Interested customers leave their phone number at the store and we add them to the WhatsApp group. About 60-70 people are part of it," Shamantha said. They also encourage feedback on the group. If the customer is dissatisfied or the produce is damaged, he can upload images and care is taken to replace it, he said. â€śWith such measures being taken, more number of people are visiting the store. We are getting good response since the approach is very consumer-friendly.â€ť The integration technology and ground-level production and marketing of produce has helped the farmers and consumers as dissemination of information is faster. â€śFor example, recently fresh boxes of mangoes arrived and we immediately sent the details along with images. This way, a customer can pick it on his way back home from office," he said. Similarly, the Department of Agriculture, Karnataka have also realised that they can reach out to more number of farmers with technology and boost production and quality. The Commissioner of the Agriculture Department Subodh Yadav said they needed a platform where the officials and farmers could interact. About a year ago, the department created groups with farmers and few officials to discuss the agricultural issues encountered by the farmers and resolve them. They are using applications such as WhatsApp, Telegram Messenger to connect with them. One group called â€śProgressive Farmersâ€ť has 198 members who discuss advance farming techniques. "It is quite interesting as people get into the depth of the issue. A farmer belonging to one region raises his issue and uploads photographs and a farmer elsewhere responds with an appropriate solution. Such Apps have strengthened the core dissemination of information," Yadav said. Such kind of platforms have greatly helped farmers as it allows them to take swift action before their crop is adversely affected. Yusuf Kamal Khan, a farmer in Chamarajnagar and member of the â€śProgressive Farmerâ€ť group on Telegram Messenger says, â€śIt definitely has helped us because we interact and learn about so many things we do not know. More than officials, farmers participate in these discussions which help us connect,â€ť However, he feels that having research experts would more beneficial and sharing the outcomes carried out research institutes is necessary. Tools, methods, newer inventive methods is what required for farmers like him he feels. Veena Sudhir, who practices integrated livestock farming in Madikeri seconds Yusuf's opinion. "Such groups help is clearing the doubts and sharing the ideologies," she said. Citing an instance of how farmers came to her rescue, "Weed had grown abundantly and posed a threat to my farm. Having tried different weedicides, it did not alleviate the problem. I sought the help of the farmers on the group and they suggested a different brand of weedicide which worked," she explained. However, she too opined that researchers and scientists contribution and knowledge sharing would benefit them. The two examples cite the growing trend of how technology has come to the rescue of farmers in distress. Perhaps, it is about time that governments and other local bodies imbibed this development to reach out to the farming community at large. (Image Courtesy: All images are by Shamantha K N) Â Â
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