How has the rural supply chain market been affected by this pandemic?
The lockdown has been imposed in the entire country with an intention to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading. This has disrupted the rural supply chain and its multi-party supply chain networks immensely, and has had a direct impact on harvesting, distributing, and selling of essential produce. Transportation from rural channels had become one of the major concerns. Initially when the government bodies issued permits to trucks carrying fresh produce a large number of transporters did not receive the permit instantly. As a result, plenty of crops remained unharvested and rotting in the fields.
Another major challenge was shortage of manpower, as there was a restricted movement of people permitted. We needed to rethink on how to strengthen the process, induce demand and overcome these obstacles. We witnessed 50% reduction in demand since many retail shops were closed. It eventually led us to rebuild a supply chain that is effective and robust at the same time which supports disrupted rural supply chain.
Does technology play a role in Supply Chain and driving Agri logistics?
Yes, to a very large extent. The whole supply chain remains technology-led, right from sourcing fresh produce from farmers to deliver it to retail outlets, local agents, and Kirana stores. As fresh produce is perishable in nature, the transportation and distribution process becomes highly time-sensitive. In fact, Ninjacart is one of the very few supply chain companies that supplies within the cycle of 12 hours, and we are trying our level best to maintain that even in the present circumstances.
Although getting it delivered in 12 hours from the time of harvest is still challenging but with the help of AI, Internet of Things (IoT), leveraging big data and predictive analysis, the process is managed smoothly. For instance, Ninjacart uses RFID technology, wherein every crate has a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag so that the company can know exactly which vegetables and fruits have been delivered where. Our algorithms create an optimal route plan, set a dispatch schedule, and fix arrival slots.
A well-structured supply chain enables zero wastage while a traditional supply chain lacks transparency. It is one of the many problems we solve by tracking the movement of vegetables and fruits across the Supply Chain. Leveraging deep machine learning reduces the overall wastage to 4% compared to traditional supply chains which may lead to wastage of 25%.
Tell us a bit about “Harvest the Farm Initiative”. How will it will help improve the economic conditions of farmers?
After the nationwide lockdown was announced, farmers struggled to harvest, mandi operations were on hold, shortage of labour and restricted movements stalled the supply chain. Transporters even started charging extra from farmers to unload from trucks and to deliver at shops due to all these challenges farmers associated with us and those who were not part of our community also approached us to help them boost demand as fresh produce sat neatly stacked, awaiting purchase.
We saw this as an opportunity, and with the existing supply chain intact, we launched ‘Harvest The Farm’ initiative, in partnership with hyper-local companies like Swiggy, Zomato, and Dunzo to assist us reach a large base, and ultimately serve the consumers directly. They can now avail fresh produce from farms at subsidised rates. ‘Harvest The Farm’ initiative allowed farmers also to earn better profit margins. We closely work with them to understand the market and mutually agree on a price then supply directly to consumers. Since the initiative we have seen 4% increase in the farmers’ income.
Vasudevan Chinnathambi is the Co-founder of Ninjacart, India’s largest tech-driven supply chain platform that connects farmers of fresh vegetables and fruits with kiranas and businesses.