This Start-up is going nuts over niche farmers
Bihar is known for makhana or fox nuts, the popped seeds of a prickly water lily that grows abundantly in eastern India. It’s popularly branded lotus seeds, but it is in fact a different species of water lily, Euryale ferox. Its flower does resemble the lotus, but the seeds are different. The harvesting and popping of seeds from this prickly water lily plant’s leaves is a painstaking process that has evolved in the Mallah community of Bihar. The price of makhana has increased manifold in recent years as its appeal as a healthy, low-fat snack has grown around the world. But it’s the traders who gain from exports after they buy makhana in bulk. Delhi-based startup Farmley, which raised $2 million seed funding earlier this year from Omnivore and others, is out to change that. It has a makhana collection centre in Bihar and has been teaching growers to segregate the nuts by size, colour, moisture and other parameters. This helps the growers get a better price for higher quality makhana. It makes them aware of the qualities in demand in the end market of retailers, exporters and food processing brands. Armed with knowledge about the demand as well as how to achieve those qualities, the growers fare better. Equal shares “Even after taking into account the expenses for segregating, grading and automation, growers are able to increase margins and profits, so it’s not just traders who make good money," says Akash Sharma, co-founder and CEO of Farmley. Sharma and Abhishek Agarwal, both IIT grads, launched Farmley three years ago as a specialized B2B (business-to-business) marketplace for high-value, non-perishable food like nuts, seeds, dry fruits, spices and honey. Recently, it created a Farmley brand of such products, making them available in retail and ecommerce outlets. Most of the agritech startup action around disintermediating food supply chains has been in perishables, with the likes of Ninjacart providing fruits and vegetables to retailers serving urban consumers. In non-perishables, staples like grains and pulses are more organized. There are greenfield areas like walnuts, makhana and cashew farming where a niche player like Farmley is breaking ground. “Most of the farmer producer organizations (FPOs) and small and medium processors that we deal with have very limited understanding of the evolving quality parameters and manufacturing practices that can increase their incomes," says Sharma. “The price and supply chain arbitrage in these commodities is huge." In perishables like vegetables, the focus has been on quick delivery to offer freshness and avoid spoilage, usually within a radius of 100-200km of a city. For items like cashew, it’s segregation, grading and automation that make a difference on returns. “We bring a manufacturing mindset," says Sharma.