Daana Network is working to demonstrate that organic farming can bridge the two parallel realities. “In urban areas we have absolutely no responsibility in our consumption and this is something that has to change. The barrier between producer and consumer has to really disappear because the two sectors do not even know each other,” says Co-founder SujathaRamni.
A two-partner venture based in Hyderabad, Daana has created a software to connect every member of the organic farming ecosystem.“Daana Network connects everyone from farmers to cooperatives, retailers and customers,” says Sujatha. More than a social network, it is an e-commerce platform, “it is a business network and the members are not exchanging only information, but products as well. Farmers can sell their crops, retailers can track which farmer is producing what and share their inventories, buyers can organise a joint purchase and so on.”
The software was created to meet two requirements: first, the facility of communication regardless of language and illiteracy, and secondly, light weight to be supported by the most basic 3G connections. “The language used is English, but everything is based on visual pictographic tools so no one needs to learn how to read and write it. It’s very number-driven, most of the data is number: quantity, size, price, stock, payment etc,” she explains. Sujatha also mentions that in the next few months Daana will look at translating their content in to six different south Indian languages.
When asked about problems with Internet penetration in rural areas, Sujatha says, “Unlike in other developing countries, Internet is very cheap in India and 3G connection is easily available. Moreover, all you need is a basic smartphone which can be purchased for Rs. 5000/7000. Many middle aged farmers and their sons/employees own smart phones.”
Before starting Daana Network, Sujatha was a software engineer, but clearly she did not want to limit her experience to technology. A few years ago she started Good Seeds, which is a physical retail platform for organic products in Hyderabad. “Since 2012, when I started Daanawith my partnerAshhar Farhan, I am back to my field of competence but I am focussed on my passion, which is organic farming,” she says.
So far, Daanahas, , partnered with 35 farming cooperatives reaching out to every state in South India. Perishable goods come from around Hyderabad and non-perishable from further off areas. “In the next few months, we want to establish connections with individual farmers and groups of farmers to increase our connections to 150,” says Sujatha.
The Daana team explains that some of the greatest challenges in the business is cost and productivity of organic farming. “Everybody knows organic food is better but they just don’t buy it because they can’t afford it, including the middle class. So far we have financed Daana with our own money and we think it is worth it. Right now, we want people to adopt it use it and see value init. If the value is recognised, then nobody will have a problem paying for it,” reasons Sujatha. She continues, “You have to create an environment, a habit and then you can build a profitable market.”
The second issue is that organic farming struggles to gain pace among farmers for several reasons including the unpredictability of production and the irregular marketability of the crops. “We work with farmers who already grow organic products. Sometimes we collaborate with NGOs who educate villages on organic farming. At the moment we are focussing on providing constant monthly demand so that farmers recognize the advantages of organic farming,” explains Sujatha.
The struggles are quite a few and the team (which is not planning to expand much any time soon) is at a stage where, before thinking of a revenue system, it has to think about how to cut the costs that traditionally make organic food expensive in order to build a fully sustainable mechanics of operations. The team has successfully cut out the middlemen through their online network. However, crucial aspects like transport remains a dilemma.
Nonetheless, Sujatha says that this is what she wants and has to do because organic farming is logically the most meaningful system to support. “It is awesome to see people who think this is the way forward, this is the way to the future,” she concludes. We will closelywatch Daana’s developments and follow up on their future projects.
Learn more about Daana Network on their website