A platform that facilitates the trade of fresh produce from farmers to consumers, working with every link, transparently and fairly.
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Born in Pakistan. Educated in the US and UK. Experience in farming in Hawaii and now in Pakistan. I wanted to come back to Pakistan and become an organic farmer after my experience at a WWOOF farm in Hawaii. On returning and exploring the agriculture landscape, I learned about the problems faced by farmers, then the wholesale market and eventually lead to the creation of the platform that we are now working on.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Farmers are not very educated and dont have access to market therefore they often get cheated or buy the wrong products for their farm.
This is how auctions are conducted! Imagine 10 auctions for tomatoes occurring at the same time with mixed grade products and varying prices. The lack of transparency and any unified data leads to cheating and corruption. The real loser in the scenario is the farmer.
Pakistan is one of the largest countries in the world with a population of over 200 million people. Largely an agricultural country with 40% of its labor force working in the agriculture industry. Severe lack of education and infrastructure lead to minimal access to markets and opportunities for farmers. In the north we have the Himalayas, where melting glaciers feed the 5 major rivers of Pakistan, one of which is the Indus. The Indus is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world the Indus Valley Civilizations with its rich deltas and alluvial plains originating from the Himalayan glacial melt. We have four provinces, each with varying cultures but unified by religion and their tribal homes. There is a vast divide in terms of the Urban and the Rural lives. With so many different cultures and languages, Pakistan is truly a unique land with the complete expression of all the different landscapes. This means that we can grow all kinds of produce and supply the world if we were to focus on agriculture, something that the government has not paid heed to. It stems from our political history, drawing from our colonial past under the British who severed the region into the Muslim Pakistan and the Hindu India. Fragments of the class system still exist and the feudals who served as allies still maintain many of their lands. 22 families were the benefactors of the divide. A lot has changed since partition in 1947 as new money and new families have taken hold but the feudal mindset reigns in the rural areas. The small farmers with their lack of education and exposure are often exploited and thus remains the status quo.
As of late, with the emergence of cheap smartphones, internet penetration and interest from China in the form of CPEC we are now seeing a shift in policy towards agriculture. The government is rapidly digitizing ministries and with it agriculture is on its agenda as well. The hungry Chinese population seeks Pakistan to fullfill its food needs and therefore has invested over $50 billion in the CPEC project with almost half of it dedicated towards agriculture. It is a good time to be one of the only agritech start ups in Pakistan.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Pakistan is largely an agriculture based economy with 40 percent of its labor force employed in the agriculture industry. The large majority of farmers live below or around the poverty line, due to which they have limited education if any, minimal access to markets, and due to the informal nature of the auctions at the wholesale market completely blind to market prices. They get cheated by the commission agents who they rely on for selling their produce when harvest time arrives. Due to the perishable nature of fresh produce and the fact that nature ripens a particular type of vegetable or fruit at the same time in the same region; when harvest comes, there is excess supply and farmers are at the whim of the commission agent to have their produce sold or go to waste. This is their dilemma.
To add to their dilemma the commission agents with their knowledge of the markets and market rates are able to make massive profits at the expense of the farmer. For example when mango season starts, it typically starts from the south in Sindh and then moves upwards to Punjab and then KPK. As the season begins farmers in Sindh are cash starved and sell to the nearest village based wholesale market at PKR 20/kg. The commission agent will buy it from the farmer and then auction it off in Karachi (the closest and largest city) at PKR 90 - 120 /kg. What the commission agent should have done was sell off the farmers produce in the Karachi market to begin with, take their 10% and give the rest to the farmer. Instead the farmer gets a price of PKR 20 out of which the commission agent charges his 10% and then makes 4 times as much when he sells it in the much larger Karachi market that the farmer has no access to.
This is the cycle of exploitation that we wish to address. As smartphones and internet are slowly penetrating the interior provinces, the children of farmers are now connected. Even if smartphones are not present at least one person in the family owns a mobile phone and can be spoken to on the phone. This is what we can leverage along with leveraging technology and the experience that we have gained over the last 5 years.
By 2050 we will be facing a severe water crisis. that will be the end of many farmers in Sindh. Pakistan was the home of the Indus Valley civilization that lived off the banks of the river Indus that flows from the Himalayas in the north all the way down to the Coast in Sindh to the south. We are already seeing the Indus delta disappearing and therefore, farmers in Sindh will very soon not have enough water to produce any crops at all if they do not change their practices and conserve water.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
We started off in Karachi which is the 6th largest city in the world with a population close to 24 million people. All the fresh produce consumed by this mega city has at one point gone through the one wholesale market located to the north of the City. We are located there and are the only tech enabled organization that is operating in this very chaotic market in a professional manner. Our greatest strength has always been the way that we leverage technology and most importantly data. Everything is tracked from when a customer places an order to when the customer receives the order. From who purchased the various items, to who passed it through QC, to who supervised and who packed the order and who supervised and dispatched the order to which rider or driver delivered. Everything is tracked. Every type of vendor (wholesaler or commission agent) or farmer is tracked. We send out two teams to price survey the market using our award winning technology which allows us to essentially map out the entire wholesale market, the vendors and the prices of products at the various vendors. We use this data for our own purchasing so that we do not get cheated due to the fluctuating prices. Prices are determined on various factors such as the farmer's reputation, the perish-ability (age) of the item, the grade, the size and the appearance. All these factors along with the daily demand and supply fluctuation determine prices and often times those prices cannot be standardized. By getting the wholesalers and the commission agents to use our platform, they start gathering this data for us and they get access to the pricing across the large wholesale market by simply navigating through their smartphone. All the systems that we have refined over the last 5 years are now being opened up to the vendors at the wholesale market which completely changes the game. It changes the game because for the first time in history in Pakistan, one can actually see what that the price for tomato, for a given grade of tomato actually is. What the min and the max prices are? Who is selling those items and how to purchase simply through our app? This is what we are creating. Once the platform is established we can then connect farmers who were otherwise disconnected and at the whim of just one commission agent and open them up to the wholesale market in Karachi. Followed by the wholesale market in Lahore, Islamabad and then Quetta. For the first time in the history of Pakistan a farmer will be able to choose where they can sell their product with confidence, knowing that they did not get cheated. They can leverage city wholesale market prices and choose which wholesale market commission agent to work with.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
The biggest problem is that of unfair distribution of wealth across the agriculture supply chain. Off every PKR 100 spent at the retail level, only PKR 10 trickles back to the farmer. We wish to change that. With our platform in place upto PKR 60 will trickle back to the farmer thereby tremendously impacting the lives of the 40% of the labor force of Pakistan. Moving from survival mode to prosperity brings with it education, justice and an overall increase in standard of living. We can bring Pakistan out of poverty simply by investing in its people and its land.
The 4 cities mentioned also allow us to leverage proximity in every province. Quetta is part of the ancient silk route and it connects to Iran and Afghanistan. The feedback loop created allows us to not only disseminate valuable information to farmers that they can use to increase yields but also to find better markets which could even include markets outside of Pakistan. The plan is to not only connect the farmers through this platform to all of Pakistan's wholesale markets, but to also help them get certified and allow for them to export to countries in Europe where prices are a lot higher and consumption for the world's best mango (that is our mango) is barely present. By providing higher profits to farmers we can impact 40% of the labor force of Pakistan who can finally come out of poverty, educate their children, buy medicines and become better each year. I think that is a vision worth pursuing :)
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
2020 - 2030
Integration of our platform across the 4 major cities identified (Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Quetta)
What we created for our own purchasing, which digitizes the informal flow of products through the wholesale market, when used by all the vendors at the wholesale market will yield the following result:
- We will acquire access to all transactional data between farmer, commission agent, wholesaler and later retailer. This data includes who the farmers are, which commission agents they are working with and over time allow us to rate and rank them by acquiring feedback data from customers against the sales. It also includes what rates products were auctioned for with respect to their images and market demand and supply. We will acquire data on who the wholesalers who purchased from the commission agents are as well as what rates they sold their products to and to which retailers thereby mapping out the entire distribution network of retail outlets where these products eventually ended up. We will also be able to bring retailers on board through an offline online hybrid selling system based on our B2C business segment, giving us very valuable feedback from the end customer who can actually rate the products received which we will be able to track all the way back to the source - the farmer and relay that information to the farmer in order for the farmer to improve their earnings simply by modifying their growing practices, as well as crop type based on customer needs.
- We will do the same in each of the cities and then open up intercity trade where wholesalers from different cities will be able to access wholesale market prices in other cities and also make purchases between the cities in order for the best utilization of produce and breaking the monopoly of one single large player.
- Using the data gathered along with historical data we will be able to predict prices which in turn can become valuable insight for farmers who are looking to enter a particular market segment where supply is low (depicted by high price).
- We will then open up the platform to farmers after getting permission from the commission agents in a controlled manner, so as not to disrupt the personal relationships between the farmers and the commission agents and making sure that the solution is a win win for all.
- We will then open up our platform to provide consultation to farmers, and also link them to input markets, providing seed and fertilizer for them to grow thereby being able to trace the complete life cycle of a product from seed all the way to consumption.
- The result will be better utilization of farm produce and a lot less wastage of farm produce. Every tomato season many farmers simply dump all their tomatoes as the prices fall to PKR 1 per kg. At that rate it is not feasible for them to send their produce to the wholesale market as the packaging and logistics cost far outweighs the profits. It is actually more effective to dump their harvest than to sell it. By opening up a digital market across 4 cities and having access to farmer growing data we can guide them to not grow products that will become a surplus and also for those who have be able to link them to industry. For example sauce manufacturers can leverage the low prices towards ketchup.
- By knowing how much production is occurring we can guide farmers to produce those crops that will have a low supply this year. This way surplus and harvest loss will be minimized and better utilization of precious water and resources will occur in order to yield a better return on investment and therefore a higher standard of living for farmers across the country.
- We will then open up the international market. By working closely with farmers and providing to them seeds as well as other inputs we will be able to set them up for export. Allowing them to certify themselves and gain access to otherwise closed markets in Europe and North America. I recently visited Berlin and found out that one Pakistan mango was selling for 2 - 4 euros on facebook. Brought in through informal channels into the country. Just imagine the impact of certified mango and citrus (our most coveted fruit products) for the Berlin market as well as for the Pakistani farmers growing them!
2030 - 2050
By having access to farmers across the country through our platform we can not only provide to farmers, access to markets (both sales and inputs) but also information. Information in the form of the latest apps that allow them to detect pests and bugs. Access to the latest technology and growing methods. As water crisis will become a lot more apparent we can teach them how to grow more efficiently. We can link them to the latest in technologies from across the world and open up cross border trade both ways. Pakistan as I mentioned, has a multitude of environments where almost every type of crop can be grown. We can leverage global demand, something that China is already planning on doing.
We can also move from agriculture into livestock and fisheries. We already provide to our customers on our b2c segment access to Meat and Seafood, but we are not specializing in those areas. We can bring Meat and Seafood into our platform in a similar way and expand production in the most efficient way possible.
With an ever increasing population and diminishing supply of natural resources, efficient utilization of resources becomes a very high priority. Latest technological advances as well as food science become important. Nutritional value per unit and the cost of using chemical fertilizer and hybrid seeds become more apparent. Moving farmers to Organic production leveraging the natural landscape using concepts derived from permaculture may become a valuable solution for small farmers who can then grow a multitude of products in a limited volume versus a whole lot of just one type of product (monoculture). Agriculture is a vast domain and the natural progression of farmers in the developed world is that of value addition. From citrus farmers to producers of Tropicana fruit juice or producers of dried citrus. The possibilities are endless.