Mandi Trades not only helps farmers sell their produce directly to the consumer and eliminates middlemen and local traders, but also provides technological data and solutions to farmers to boost their harvest.
The clarion call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to double farmers’ income by 2022 inspired Edvin Varghese to set up Mandi Trades, a location-based trade enabling services. The multilingual mobile-based application and web portal aggregator targets farmers and bulk buyers — such as retailers, traders, exporters, hotels and caterers directly — through a business-to-business model.
Buyers can search for farmers, by produce, or a particular variety. The app provides various advanced filters to narrow down options by geography, location, price, availability, and yield. To help buyers plan procurement, harvesting information is also available in advance.
“The unorganised farming community gets access to better price realisation. Farmers can gauge average demand, peak/low-demand season, in-season and off-season needs from the data available on the app. This enables them to plan their farming activities better,” Edvin Varghese, Co-founder, Mandi Trades, explains.
The Mandi Trades model
The platform can be used by the agrarian community to not only sell their produce and find buyers but the mobile application also provides the user information about weather updates, crop prices, and news related to agriculture. User can also discover and connect with nearby farmers directly. Edvin envisioned Mandi Trades to become the “Facebook for Farmers in India”.
Explaining that the mobile platform could eliminate middlemen and local traders facilitating direct market linkages, Edvin says,
“This platform will link farmers and consumers within the agricultural value chain, easing management and communication about market data. Farmers can now take informed decisions regarding all the steps involved in farming, which includes details of dealers selling pesticides, seeds, fertilizers, machinery etc. It also gives loan support for the needy from well-recognised banks and financial agencies.”
Further, using location intelligence a user can get a map-based information of both buyer and seller, along with the geographical proximity.
Edvin is a first-generation entrepreneur; his father worked as a bank manager in Kunnamkulam, Kerala, while his mother was a teacher.
Since childhood, Edvin was engaged in doing odd jobs at the field— his father made him cycle to the paddy fields to make payment to the people working there. He had completed in computer science from RV College of Engineering in Bengaluru.
Until 2011, Edvin worked at multiple tech forms, including Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and IBM. And at the age of 43, he decided to start Mandi Trades, with the aim of bridging the technology gap in the farmer supply chain.
“I have tried my hand at cultivation of ragi and other agricultural produce. The lack of technical information, access to markets and lethargy of the system was a rude shock. I was thinking of ways I can make the system better,” Edvin recalls.
Edvin says that while personal computers and laptops have “bypassed” the villages completely, the smartphone technology has penetrated small towns and rural India.
Today, the platform has over 80,000 users and the company is growing at the rate of 20 percent per year. Mandi Trades also won the mBillionth award, which recognises and awards excellence in mobile innovations for development, in the agriculture category in 2017.
The digital transformation
At a time when migration to urban cities for jobs is rampant, digital platforms such as Mandi Trades are enabling modes of employment for the rural youth.
Edvin was aware of the problems currently faced by the agrarian community, which included multiple intermediates in the fruits and vegetables market, which enabled “middlemen to make excessive profits”.
Hence, Mandi Trades was evolved with an idea to help producers accelerate the natural adoption of new cultural practices and technology thereby increasing the yield and adding value-added benefits during the farming procedure.
The mobile application is built using the latest technology trends like mobility, cloud, analytics and big data. This technological interface allows them to evaluate the quality of yield and, at the same time, provide them data to boost their crop production.
The startup also provide farmers the access to rural credit from banks like Axis Bank. Further Edvin addressed the present lack of standardisation in production by connecting the farmers and providing them access to an organised marketing system.
Bengaluru-based Mandi Trades draws data from the market prices information provided online by the government of India. This data is then used as a reference point in the mobile app. The startup helps farmers find new markets with an aim to to break the trader-mandi operator nexus and provide alternative markets to the agriculture producers.
The primary challenge faced by his team was to gain the farmers’ trust and explain to them how technology will improve their profits.
“Governmental policies need to change. The Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act, 2003, enacted by most states, is not helping. Farmers should have the freedom to sell their produce anywhere he or she wants. The rights-based paradigm should be extended to farmers also. The right to produce and sell to anyone,” Edvin explains.
Mobile technology, he believes, is a step in towards this direction, where the agrarian community have access to financial services that not only reduces the administrative costs to financial institutions but also provides methods of more accessible repayment and savings options for customers.
Edvin’s team is utilising social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread awareness about their platform. They frequently also conduct offline events in villages with help from NGOs, and also work with school students to connect with rural communities.
At present, Mandi Trades is raising its revenue through its e-commerce mobile platform and advertisements.
Many other startups, including Farmily, RML AgTech, and Kisan Network, are currently working in similar agriculture space. Yet, Edvin views competition as beneficial. “Since the market is very big, any new competitor only raises awareness about the product,” he says.
Edvin aims to increase the base of the farmers connected to his platform to five million. It has also partnered with the local government and World Bank, and is on a mission to train more people in rural India to use technology-enabled platforms.