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The IIT Bombay Alumni Startup’s, Innovation helps Marginal Farmers Realize 30% more Price for Vegetables !

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan

Three in four farmers in India operate marginal land holdings – less than one hectare of land (Ref: NSSO, 70th Round, 2012-13, GoI). With limited storage capacity for produce from their small plots of land, they are susceptible to distress sales and poor price for their produce. This has made them extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in demand and supply, particularly those associated with natural calamities. COVID-19 was no different.

Kumarmani Rohidas from Kolabira block, Jharsuguda district, Odisha, was also in trouble due to The Corona lockdown. The lockdown created a multitude of problems not only for him but also for all other farmers. Due to the sudden announcement of the lockdown and uncertainty in labour availability that followed, all farmers faced difficulties in harvest of the standing Rabi crop. Added to this, there were severe disruptions in the supply-chain of agricultural produce in terms of functioning of mandis, local markets and transport facilities, despite it being classified as an essential commodity. This led to farmers like him engaging in distress-sale of their produce in different parts of the country.

However, a marginal farmer cannot afford a resource intensive cold storage. In fact, the net income of a marginal farmer from cultivation is negative on an average. The average monthly expenditure of a marginal farmer exceed his/ her average monthly income by a margin of Rs. 770 to Rs. 1250 (NSSO, 70th Round, 2012-13, GoI).Thus, it is not surprising that the penetration of cold storage in India remains low

As Vegetable cultivation is the main income source for marginal farmers in Gajapati and Jharsuguda districts of Odisha,the vegetable crop was ready for harvest by the end of second week of March 2020. Fruits and vegetables, being perishable, needed immediate post-harvest attention to reduce the microbial load and increase their shelf life, which can be achieved by storing them at lower temperature and high relative humidity conditions. These conditions are usually achieved in cold storages. However, mechanical and solar cold storages are energy and capital intensive.

However, thanks to innovation by a Startup founded by alumni of IIT Bombay – Rukart Technologies, farmers like Kumarmani Rohidas were able to secure 30% higher price than other farmers who does not have Subjee Cooler. KumarmaniRohidas uses Subjee Cooler for the past 7 months and he is been extremely happy at using this for saving his perishable products.

It is in this context, RuKart Technologies invented an affordable, no-maintenance “Subjee Cooler” (vegetable cooler) to provide a life-line to marginal farmers. With the Subjee Cooler, farmers are able to harvest their produce at their will and store it for a few days to realize a better price. As a case in point, as evident from our fieldwork, farmers from Kolabira block in Jharsuguda district and Ramagiri block from Gajapati district having a Subjee Cooler were able to store and sell their vegetable produce around Rs. 25-30 per Kg and Rs. 30-40 per Kg, respectively. While, those without any provision to store their vegetables could only manage a throw away price of Rs. 7-8 per Kg and Rs. 10-15 per Kg respectively.

Subjee Cooler works on the principle of evaporative cooling and does not require any utilities. However, it requires watering; once a day. The on-farm structure temperature is lower than the ambient temperature by a margin of 5-20°C (depends on ambient relative humidity) and maintains the high relative humidity of above 90 – 95% inside the structure. The low temperature and high relative humidity inside the chamber preserve vegetable crop (non-tuber crops) for short-time: 4 - 6 days. Field surveys have shown that farmers find the on-farm structures quite attractive. More than 80 such units have been installed across different states in India; Bihar, Odisha, and Maharashtra. Thus it is not surprising that more than 150 Subjee Coolers are in the pipeline.

Benefits to Adopters:

Some of the benefits of Subjee Cooler as pointed out by adopters are mentioned below:

Adopters are getting around at least 30% higher price for their produce compared to other farmers: Subjee cooler produce not only looks fresh and attractive, it indeed is due to the technology behind the innovation.

Earlier a farmer used to harvest vegetable only once in a week, the day before weekly market. Now an adopter harvests the vegetable thrice in a week. The optimum harest cycle reduces the loss due to over maturity of crop.

Farmers store the un-sold vegetable for the next weekly market. Earlier, a farmer used to sell their produce in a day only because he or she does not have any storage facilities.

Adopters are selling their produce to intermediaries as well as consumers (at weekly markets) directly. Non-Adopters continue to sell their produce to middlemen.

RuKart is a start-up founded by three IIT Bombay alumni: Gunvant Nehete, Sharayu Kulkarni and Vikash Jha. The start-up received the initial support from their alma-mater, CTARA – IIT Bombay. Professor across the departments like CTARA (Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas), CSE (Computer Science & Engineering), SJMSOM (Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management) are actively guiding the start-up. The objective of RuKart is to make smallholder agriculture economically and environmentally sustainable. RuKart designs, develops, and disseminates affordable, recurring cost free, robust and scalable products to reduce the input cost and mitigate the risk in cultivation. Currently, the year old start-up is working in states including Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and North East India. 

During the lockdown, when transportation services were not allowed, RuKart has come up with a web-based platform to help marginal farmers to sell their produce to small shopkeeper and customers directly. A Subjee Cooler adopter could register at the RuKart website use this facility. Currently, this web-based service is under trial in Odisha. RuKart is looking to expand this service in other states as well.

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