sundayfarmer in press

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Click for a slice of luscious Devgad mango

SUREKHA KADAPA-BOSE

Devgad mangoes on sale
Devgad mangoes on sale

Farmers in Sindhudurg decided to hop online to compete with Maharashtra’s more famous Ratnagiri variety.

From beauty to medicine, clothes, handicrafts and jewellery, the worldwide Web now markets them all — so it was not long before even fruits and flowers were enthusiastically transported online by farms growing them. Apart from Web sites hosted by individual farmers, farmer groups and cooperatives, there are bloggers who religiously write about farm products, where to buy the best fruits, and some even throw in traditional recipes!

This mango season, nearly 650 farmers of Devgad, in Sindhudurg district, Maharashtra, came together to market their produce online. The State has been e-marketing cut flowers and strawberry for a while now, and decided to add mangoes this year.

“We wanted to popularise our Devgad mangoes. When people thought about Maharashtra mangoes, they always thought of only Ratnagiri mangoes. So Ajit Gogate, our former MLA, decided to host a Web site, http://www.devgadmango.com, to help and promote our farmers,” says Santosh Patkar, manager, Devgad Taluka Amba Utpadak Sahakari Sanstha (the mango farmers’ marketing cooperative).

Within a month of the site’s launch they had more than 1,000 customers and many more inquiries.

They have already made profits but, in this their first year, they have also learned several important lessons in marketing to city dwellers.

“Customers in Mumbai and Pune want home delivery, which wasn’t possible this year. We have a few pick-up points in these cities. From next year we will have more such points and, wherever possible, we will home deliver. When e-marketing mangoes we have to maintain the quality, and city people expect the same quality for every fruit in the basket. From next year we hope to fare better,” says Patkar.

With the spread of education at the village level, farmers in States such as Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat are increasingly logging on to the Internet for information on high yielding seeds, their availability, new techniques of cultivation and accessing financial loans. But not many have yet explored it as a marketing avenue.

The Western India Floriculture Association of Talegaon, a fast developing city close to Pune, soon hopes to offer e-marketing among its bouquet of services. The floricultural park houses several polyhouses that grow roses, gerbera and carnations, which are exported to Japan and some European countries. It hopes to have its Web site up and running before the next flowering season.

“I have started work on my Web site, through which I will market cut flowers, especially roses and gerbera. The Association too plans to start a club Web site, where the majority of growers will join in for group e-marketing,” says Shivaji Bhegde of Siddharth Flora, Talegaon.

Of course, not all fruits can be e-marketed as some have a very short shelf-life. For instance, although the Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani belt in Maharashtra exports nearly 20,000 tonnes of strawberries to several European countries each season, the growers haven’t thought of e-marketing as the fruit barely has a 48-hour shelf life and storage facilities are limited in the country.

Says Nasir Sheikh, a strawberry farmer in Panchgani, “I doubt if any strawberry growers will join this trend, as strawberry is a highly perishable fruit.”

Yet another virtual entry into the world of farms and farm produce is provided by the evocative writings of bloggers. Log on to http://panasamwonders.blogspot.com/, for instance, for a wide range of information on the jackfruit. You even learn of a unique jackfruit festival. The blog famously profiles a homemaker who knows 300 jackfruit recipes.

https://sundayfarmer.wordpress.com is a blog maintained by a weekend farmer who works in a city firm during the week and owns a two-acre farm on the outskirts of Thane, 50 km from Mumbai. The blog traces the learning graph of this weekend farmer besides informing visitors about the latest farming techniques, both age-old and new-age growth boosters, biopesticides, horticulture tips and so on — all of it written in an engaging style.

Within 18 months it has attracted dedicated followers who seek the blogger’s opinion on various farming issues.

Then there are portals such as http://www.agricultureinformation.com, which provides weekly updates and serves as a one-stop platform for buyers and sellers in areas related to agriculture, horticulture, floriculture, animal husbandry among others. A group of farmers from Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, have, for instance, posted this on the portal’s weekly newsletter: “We grow export-quality basmati paddy (pusa-1121, sugandha-2511), and other basmati paddy variety and have these varieties of basmati paddy in a bulk quantity. Please contact, Rajeev.”

Another query reads: “I want to start a strawberry farm in Bangladesh. I need to know facts about this farming and how can I start.”

While in the West there are many such Web sites, blogs and Webzines that inform not only ordinary readers but also farmers on a range of issues related to farming, India-specific content is still merely a trickle, but growing. By the look of it, within a couple of years we too are likely to have many farmers e-savvy and happily involved in Net marketing.

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