News of Organic Industry

India: I Say Organic - creating an end-to-end model by providing marketing with the vital link

An Indian start-up is currently serving South, Central and North Delhi & Gurgaon with fresh organic produce

by Chitra Balasubramaniam, New Delhi for oneco


Organic cultivation has increased in India over the past few years, as has the number of consumers buying organic produce. However, the biggest problem growers still face is the lack of a direct market to serve those consumers.


India - organic production is growing but lacking of suitable marketing


Cultivators’ biggest bane is that despite their adhering to the best standards the market does not distinguish between organic produce and produce grown using modern methods. Price recovery is in many cases lower than market prices as the fruit and vegetables grown using organic methods do not “look good” compared to produce grown using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Another problem is that although dry goods – pulses, cereals etc. – are sold off the shelf as they have a good shelf life, there are no linkages between producer groups and consumers when it comes to fruit and vegetables. There are plenty of NGOs and committed individuals working at the grassroots level who are spreading the message of organic manures and fertilizers, but when it comes to marketing there is a huge vacuum.


I Say Organic - an end-to-end model that incentivizes farmers to go organic


And it is here that I Say Organic, a farmer-to-consumer direct operation, has notched up an impressive number of converts in its short life of only seven months. Ashmeet Kapoor, its founders, says, “I experimented with organic farming and realized that with the single cropping system that was being touted as more profitable, farmers had forgotten about the concepts of organic farming. The biodiversity of our farms is being lost.” The only missing link in the chain is a good marketing system that can provide direct linkages, he says, adding, “I had to find my niche to help the movement grow. It was marketing. Also I saw more companies were working on non-perishables. Not a lot of people are doing fruit and vegetables, which is why I got into them.” The company aims to create an end-to-end model that incentivizes farmers to go organic.

And that was how I Say Organic was born says Ashmeet with his characteristic smile. “It would have been difficult to sell our products under the former name of the registered company – Jagriti Agro Tech Pvt. Ltd.” I Say Organic reaches out to customers via the online route. The order form lists the available fruit and vegetables including prices. Customers have to order online or by telephone. Currently, deliveries are made in South Delhi twice a day, while in Gurgaon deliveries are made three times a week. Other areas are also being considered. The outfit has its own delivery vans. Ashmeet is helped by a small team of 14.


Ordering fresh organic produce via internet


Working with fruit and vegetables has its own problems: lower margins, high transportation costs, the need for cold storage facilities, and the supply chain is pretty challenging given the woefully inadequate facilities available on farms. The biggest challenge, however, was to make the supply chain work with only I Say Organic coming between farmers and consumers. The online portal has been a boon, as it has helped forge links with customers who understand and appreciate organic products. They consume organic produce for its worth and there is also a higher price realization for farmers, a premium of 20–25% compared to market or mandi prices. Most customers are still acquired by word of mouth. Since ordering is simple, there are plenty of trial users.

In the short space of seven months, I Say Organic has been delivering around 1.5–2 tonnes per week. At the moment, produce is being sourced from a farmers’ group called Dharani Suphalam in Sirsa Haryana and from the Karsog Valley Farmers Group (KVFG) in Himachal Pradesh. There are tie-ups with a single farmer near Sohna and other producer groups from across the country. Organic vegetables are also being sourced from Sikkim, India’s first state to go completely organic. The outfit places its orders with farmers based on requirements, then delivers produce to a warehouse in Delhi. Many of the tomatoes and cucumbers are desi or indigenous varieties and not commercial ones. Also available are: fresh turmeric, fennel straight from the fields, greens, parsley, French beans, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. The warehouse basement from which the company operates has a tiny cold storage room where greens (lettuce, bokchoi, fresh coriander and fennel) are stored along with apples straight from Himachal Pradesh.



The I say organic target: Serving good organic food and improving farmers lives


Another challenge was to ensure a regular flow of vegetables and fruit and at the same time to have enough stock to sell and ensure there is no glut. Another big challenge is managing stock. “I made the mistake of buying potatoes in season at good prices only to realize that it is difficult to store and sell them later. Though with garlic, the result has not been so bad. Prices are 20–25% higher than the market price of vegetables and fruit,” the founder of I Say Organic says.

Ashmeet goes on: “Our mission is to be able in five 5 years’ time to showcase around 10 farmer groups that we are working with. To be able to say that their income has gone up by so much and how organic farming is helping them. That it has reduced input costs to nearly zero, the farmers are in better health, the practice is sustainable and viable. This can then be used to convince more farmers to go organic.” At the same time, educating consumers as to the benefits of organic products will help the market grow. Ideally, being present physically in stores will also pay off. The company may also offer dry goods to cater to other kitchen users, for instance spices, pulses, wheat etc, Ashmeet says. However, he is very clear about his priorities: “To ensure complete transparency in the system and give credit to the producer groups.”


The author's hint


The professional audience can see for themselves what else the Indian organic market has to offer at this year’s BioFach India together with India Organic in the Palace Grounds in Bangalore from 29 November to 1 December 2012.


Tags:   organic , market , farm 

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