Farm aggregators, the apple of our eyes

Despite coronavirus lockdown aggregators find ways to help farmers by taking Indian apples, honey and spices to homes across the country

Move over Washington apples and New Zealand kiwi. Apples from Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir are on the rise. Of the 6,500 varieties of apples in the world, India produces 20 and undoubtedly Kashmir apples are the most sought after.

Farm aggregators, the apple of our eyes

Now, organic produce aggregators are working overtime to market the country’s best produce, including fruit, honey and spices, nationwide. In doing so, they hope to help farmers earn the best price for their hard work.

With the lockdown, due to COVID-19, affecting the hospitality industry, Uttarakhand, a popular tourist destination known for its apples, has been hit hard. So Uttarakhand-based tourism enterprise Tons Trails stepped in to support apple growers by finding new markets for their produce.

Within minutes of Tons Trails making Uttarakhand apples available on an e-commerce platform, supporters of organic farming and individual organic farmers helped them spread the word. Anand Sankar of Tons Trails says, “The harvest is rich and the farmers cannot be left to suffer. They usually earn money by selling their apples in the mandi. Every year, these farmers earn from tourists that we bring to the area, through homestays and farm visits. Some of them even double up as porters and cooks for hikers.”

Farm aggregators, the apple of our eyes

This year, going to the mandi is risky, so Tons Trails stepped in. “Our online initiative helps improve the farmers’ earnings and gives Indian apples a better reach, from farm to home. This can also go a long way in altering the buyer’s mindset. Why should we pay extra for wax-coated imported apples when we can have and appreciate what is grown in the country,” says Anand.

Although these fruits are not certified organic, the market is gradually warming up to the apples that Tons Trails is selling across the country. Boxes of 25-30 kilograms are priced according to the variety. “Red royal, the most premium variety is the most expensive; a box of 125 apples weighs close to 30 kilograms and is priced at ₹3,223,” says Anand.

While the Alphonso mango variety from Maharashtra is famed, few buyers know that the Kinnaur apples are reputed to be the best in India.

Pick your favourites

Gummadapuram Mohammed Rafee from Hyderabad-based Ar4 Agro Fresh explains, “Apples in the Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh are grown at a height of 9,710 feet above sea level. This makes them juicy and sweet. Also, apples from this region are known to have a thicker skin, which helps in better shelf life. If stored well, Kinnaur apples stay edible for a period of four months.”

Farm aggregators, the apple of our eyes

Rafee, who started by dealing with mangoes, soon realised the potential market for other fruits and Indian produce. “The black rice in supermarkets is the imported variety. Manipur and Meghalaya also produce superior quality black rice,” he says.

Farm aggregators, the apple of our eyes

Similarly, he explains that pineapples and kiwis from Manipur are of excellent quality. “The fruits are grown organically. Pineapples are big and extremely fragrant, indicating they are juicy and rarely sour. The entire business model is to help farmers earn more,” says Rafee whose wife Arifa set the business rolling as an organic mango farmer in 2011.

“With our hands-on experience of selling and procuring mangoes from several years as organic mango farmers we want to help other farmers,” he explains.

He believes that if you taste good Indian apples, you would not look at the imported varieties.

Aggregators who list exotic varieties say they are only looking at selling Indian produce.

BioDynamic farming

  • After the cloudburst of 2013 the organic farmer community of Kinnaur shifted to BioDynamic farming. This ancient method of farming was used to enhance soil fertility, thereby providing healthy food to the plants and trees. This is a form of alternative agriculture developed in 1924.
  • Similar to organic farming Rafee explains “Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and scientist, was influenced by oriental philosophy, especially Buddhism, Hinduism, and the Vedic scriptures. Biodynamic agriculture was Steiner’s answer to the farmers’ call for help during the beginning of chemical farming in Europe when they noticed the rapid degeneration in the soil, the quality of the produce, and seed viability. Steiner spoke of how in the past, farmers instinctively knew about the effects of this movement of planets and stars on the life of plants as well as animals and human beings.”
  • Ajit Negi says the only reason he shifted to BioDynamic farming is to regenerate natural resources such as the soil (by restoring the organic matter present in the soil), the seeds, and the water and to respect and nurture the soil that gives us food.

Spices and vegetables from Ooty are now making their way online too. That’s not all, pineapples, kiwi and black rice from Manipur, Lakadong turmeric from Meghalaya, white honey from Himachal Pradesh — will all be available for everyone to taste and savour soon.

Hyderabad-based Sharath Reddy of Kiaro Foods says the passion fruit and Ooty carrots they procure fly off their cart the moment they are listed. So also the avocados.

“Consumers who are sticklers for quality and taste would come back for the best, even if that means waiting for a while, which is why the passion fruit, owing to its Vitamin C content, is in high demand during the summer months,” says Sharath.

Another aggregator Zizira from Meghalaya is selling exotic spices grown in the region. The demand for the Lakadong turmeric and long pepper is such that the small quantities that the website procures sells out within no time. The website’s customer care explains that the delay in stocking up the product implies that “everything is fresh”.

But are farmers really benefiting from this mode of business? Forty nine-year-old Ajit Negi, an apple farmer from Himachal Pradesh with D-meter certified farms (farms that use BioDynamic farming method) says that he is more than delighted to make his produce available in various states this way. “Earlier I would sell it to a lot of buyers in Maharashtra and Delhi. Hyderabad is a new market and I love the engagement.”

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