Devgad, located the offshore Arabian Sea, comprises 70 villages, whose major breadwinner is the Alphonso mango trade. Alphonso is grown on 45,000 acres in Devgad and reaches 50,000 tonnes in a year of decent production. This year the farmers are staring at a lean period in production and the taluka is scheduled to reach about 30 percent of its normal production.
The society, now in its 25th year, has 700 Alphonso mango farmers as its members. It is the largest and oldest co-operative society among mango farmers in the country. This is the first time any group or co-operative society of those who otherwise depend on mandis to sell their produce – is venturing online in a direct-to-home initiative. The society has also appointed a chief marketing officer, a newly created position and also the first such in a farmers’ co-operative society, to lead the online initiative.
The online portal serves a dual purpose for the farmers; first, they are able to maintain quality control and are also able to generate judicious returns for their produce, Adv. Ajit Gogate, founder, director and chairman of Devgad Taluka Amba Utpadak Sahakari Sanstha Ltd said. The farmers are also able to fast recover the money, either before or within two days of the sale, unlike in the traditional system where it takes nothing less than 6 months for them to get their money. The taluka generates about Rs 130 crore annually from the sale of Alphonso mango alone. Fishing and tourism are other sources of income in Devgad, raking in a fraction of that from Alphonso mango.
Gogate said the society decided to explore the online medium in February 2011, when bad weather wiped out 80 percent of the mango crop. “The idea then was to maximize returns from whatever crop our farmers would be able to salvage.” “However, customers gave an encouraging response. Many were buying a fake ‘Devgad’ Alphonso mango from the market for years, but realized the authentic taste only from the fruit they bought from us,” he added.
The society then decided to focus on the online model and strengthen various processes like payments, mango purchases, deliveries and storage in Pune, the first city it explored in 2011.
The society now wants to create a model in e-commerce for perishable products like fruits and wants to share it free with any other co-operative society of farmers who wants to create a similar model for whatever they produce.