Naveen Seri – “We never wanted to be just another middleman”
Social enterprise committed to give fair deal to growers and consumers enabling farmers to earn better and buyers to have an affordable access to nutritious food
“We never wanted to be just another middleman in the value chain of agriculture commodities. We wanted to put back the maximum amount of money generated from the sale of products in the farmers’ pocket and wished the buyer get to know ‘how much’. Therefore, we decided to print the cost transparency meter on the packet itself that gives the breakup of MRP mentioning the details on farmer share and expenses incurred from procurement till product delivery. Besides each packet has a QR code that when scanned gives the details of the farmer,” shares Mr. Naveen Seri, Founder TruTrade and Organic Thelawala.
TruTrade deals in 160 grocery products. It was set up in June 2015. “The kitchen is incomplete with fruits and vegetables therefore we started Organic Thelawala to supply fresh fruits and vegetables. Thelawala are the regular push cart vendors with only difference they sell 100% chemical free fruits and vegetables at nominal prices. It is a new initiative started just three months before in Kormangala area, Bangalore,” he adds.
Based in Bangalore, Mr. Seri left his lucrative job in IT industry to become social entrepreneur. “I was always passionate to work in the social segment and agriculture was the ideal sector. Reason being more than 500 million people in our country are dependent on agriculture and the number of farmers’ suicides continues inspite of many farmer welfare schemes. Disturbed with the disparity I decided to find the reason behind these suicides and thereby left the job in 2012. On my extensive travel across Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh states for two years I met many farmers and learnt inability to pay back the debt as the main cause for untimely death,” he highlights. Further research revealed the debts mounts because farmer needs money to do farming! Since 1960, green revolution he is completely dependent on market for his production needs. He doesn’t hold back the seeds or rears the cows for farming. “Thus the solution identified was natural farming and secured market with good returns.”
To make farmers switch to natural farming practices was a daunting task for Mr. Seri and his team. Hence they appointed the field officers on company’s payroll. “These officers are actually one amongst them belonging to the village who are either agricultural graduates or experienced natural farmers. Yet they are formally trained on chemical-free farming practices and always there to help farmers with production problems. One officer is able to assist 500-700 farmers in their assigned vicinity,” he informs.
Farm products are bought from the farmers only after they are certified as organic. During the three year conversion process they are supported by the company through market linkages. Mr. Seri started the operations at TruTrade with zero farmers but today there are 13 thousand farmers who are supplying their farm produce to TruTrade for the past two years. Also 11 thousand farmers soon shall be joining the network as they are in the process of conversion and waiting for the certification. 94% of these farmers have landholding less than 3 acres. “We consciously decided to work with small and marginal farmers because they are at maximum loss because of the low awareness on market changes and product pricing. They need to be supported,” he states.
The agricultural commodities are sourced from the region specializing in the particular product. Sharing the examples Mr. Seri says, “Pulses are bought from farmers in Northern Karnataka, some parts of Madhya Pradesh and Telangana, rice comes from Gangavati in Karnataka and Kurnool from Andhra Pradesh, turmeric from Nizamabad district, Telangana and so on. Majority of fruits and vegetables are sourced from in and around Bangalore as we want to deliver as fresh as possible like pineapple from Sirsi, Karnataka and so on. We are particular about the region specific purchase as it helps in buying the bulk quantity as well as quality of the products is at its’ best.” 70% of the price paid by the consumers is given to the farmers.
When asked, as the farmers are paid premium price for their farm produce then has their livelihood improved, “Yes, to some extent things have improved but it shall take couple of years for the farmers to become debt free. Financial burden is the result of their faulty farming practices of many years so it cannot be shed overnight! It will take time but as they are paid premium price they are motivated to continue with chemical free farming practices. That is the positive change for sure.”
Speaking on ensuring farmers does not use the chemicals in the farmland, “Inspite of certification we do lab testing on random basis. Besides we keep an intense close interaction with the farmers on their practices and schedules of using different agri inputs. These checks are helpful. Further the farmers in our network have understood the fact that staying chemical free is good for them. They are committed to stick on it forever,” he informs.
The selling price of all the products is willfully kept as low as possible. “It is the fundamental right of every human being to buy and eat healthy food. Our study concludes by spending Rs. 1100-1500 more to their existing monthly budget of grocery expenses (excluding dairy) a family of six can be switch to organic products easily,” claims Mr. Seri.
In time to come TruTrade soon shall go overseas with business operations expanding to UK and continue adding more farmers in the network. “There is no end to fulfill personal needs and aspirations. However farmers were dying and I had to help them. TruTrade was just an idea that turned into social enterprise with encouragement and blessing from all sides,” he signs off.
TruTrade and Organic Thelawala
Phone: 088617 22228