It was April, 2020 and Tamil Nadu was in strict lockdown. Rachna Bhagat, who lives in the Egattur area of Chennai, received a message on her apartment WhatsApp group. The message was about an online fruit and vegetable selling platform which could fulfil her mango craving for the long summer ahead.
Rachna followed the instruction on the website and selected her mango variety and ordered a 5 kg package. It sounded a noble idea to receive fresh mangoes straight from the farmer’s field, but she was also skeptical, as she was asked to pay the price of her shipment before having a look at the product or knowing its quality. Anyway she took the plunge and ordered mangoes from Five Minutes. “I have eaten the best 40 - 45 kg of mangoes of my life this season,” says an elated Rachna.
After a few months, farmer Palanivel Ayya received a well-packed sweet mango pickle (Chunda), with a “thank you” note. The note was from Rachna to the farmer who fed her mango varieties like Alphonso, Mallika, Imam Pasand and Neelam etc throughout the season amidst the global pandemic.
India has seen a boom of online farm-to-fork platforms in the past few years and the COVID-19 pandemic has only catalysed the process. However, the transparency of the platforms remains a big question mark. Five Minutes addresses this issue at the center of their business model by collecting all the information of the farmers that might be needed by the customer and openly shares it with them. This is why Rachna knew who her farmer was and she could thank the farmer personally. Along with this, the platform also shares farmer’s selling price, packaging and transportation cost and the commission of the Five Minutes staff.
Before Five Minutes, Syed Hussain Siraj spent over 25 years in the IT industry and over 20 years in leadership roles and investment banking in the USA. After returning to Chennai from the USA in 2016, Syed’s focus shifted towards utilising technology and innovation for agricultural development.
In April 2018 Syed, founded Five Minute Farmers with a vision to connect the small-scale farmers and the customers. “This platform gives the producers and the customers a chance to interact and care for each other. This makes Five Minutes a product of its own kind,” says Syed Hussain Siraj.
Globally, around 70% of the food is produced by the smallholder farmers, 10-12% of which is traded internationally. More than 80% of smallholders operate in domestic and local markets, which are important for their food security, nutrition and economy. India is no different, smallholder farmers contribute 86.2 % of Indian farmers and only own 47.3 % of the crop area, according to the 2015-2016 agriculture census of India. Average monthly income of a smallholder farmer, from farm and non-farm activities in India is Rs. 6,426, according to the 70th NSSO survey. The Civil Society Mechanism (CSM), of the UN World Food Security suggests interaction, cooperation and coordination of civil society and social movement as the best means to support the development of smallholding farmers, i.e. by promoting local markets.
“The fact that the produce is plucked from the farm after receiving guaranteed selling price gives farmers the trust and the confidence that they need,” explains Veda Vinayagam from Vedaranyam in Nagapattinam district. Veda is also the farmers coordinator of his region. The price of produce is calculated factoring in the price at which the farmer wants to sell the produce, and not at the market selling price. The farmers can also earn more in the form of labour cost if they grade, pack or deliver the produce by themselves or take extra responsibilities like Veda does.
5M calculator can be tested here: https://fiveminutes.in/calculator/
The farmers are not supposed to report their produce to any market or mandi and sell their produce directly to the customers as and when the demand arrives. Every region maintains a chart of the detail of farmers and the capacity of the week to be sold. This information is made available online and customers pick their produce from the lot. However, this also leads to the wastage of vegetables, which cannot be sold at times. Nevertheless, according to Syed with the proper marketing drive in the state, this case might be solved.
The within 24 hour delivery service is also set up in a very local context with the Tamil Nadu state buses, as its only means of transportation. The farmers load the orders on the local buses which reach the predetermined destination and are received by one of the representatives from Five Minutes. From here the product is brought to the assembly point and then re-distributed to the customer’s doorstep. The information that the customers receive with every shipment is the produce type (certified organic, organic and chemically treated) name and details of the farmer, who grew the vegetable and the cost distribution throughout the channel.
In two years, Five Minutes has reached cities only across Tamil Nadu. “The objective is not expansion but satisfaction of both customers and farmers. All the active 20,000 customers at the platform know the 6,000 farmers personally and the website has built a community rather than an online market,” says Syed. The application currently runs on the web and operates in 125 pin codes of Tamil Nadu.
Monika is an independent journalist and reports on agriculture, sustainability and green growth. Her work is available at: http://monikamondal.contently.com