Success story of online farmers’ collective

It has evolved itself as a sustainable online marketplace for direct sale of local produce

Last year, when the COVID-19-induced lockdown crippled traditional markets and the logistics of agriculture business, Robert Thottupram, a dairy farmer and an agricultural banker from Piravom, took to social media to pair his offline efforts with the online world.

The group he created, Karshakakudumbam (family of farmers), initially brought together the farming community in his neighbourhood and discussed topical issues. The subject that got its members talking varied from the best practices in farming to crop yields and the perils of pandemic-hit markets, while a few others shared pictures of the good work they do on the field.

Over the time, the community has evolved itself as a sustainable online marketplace for direct sale of local produce – enabling a tremendous consolidation of small-scale farmers across Central Kerala. The growth was so dramatic that it more than plugged the holes in traditional markets, promoting farming as an emerging solution to many who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

The collective, spread across some 15 chat groups, now has over 3,600 farmers from different parts of the State as its members.

“All of a sudden, I met a lot of people who are growing produce on their backyards or even balconies but they were not able to get the word out. We have just helped them to negotiate a good price for the crop,” explained Mr.Thottupuram, who now acts as a common administrator to all these online groups.

Beyond facilitating the direct sale of products, it is also helping the farmers break some myths on cultivation , share advice, distribute seeds and even exchange livestock. The collective hosts webinars for its member farmers, arranges financial assistance and carries out viability studies on different farming operations, among other things.

The group, which also expanded the scope of activities to charity with the distribution of farm products to the flood victims of Chellanam in Kochi , has registered the charitable trust Sneha Thanal to streamline the initiatives in this direction.

Taking note of the acute shortage of workforce in sectors including agriculture, the group has commenced works to prepare a database of both skilled and unskilled labour force.

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