Available in stunning colours and eye-catching designs: from smart-looking rattan furniture to traditional jewellery, Aarong, the most popular retail chain in Bangladesh, has it all. These products have been crafted by underprivileged artisans (85 per cent of them women), with great care and passion. ‘Aarong’, which means ‘village fair’ in Bengali, had its humble beginnings way back in 1978 as a way to empower rural artisans to rise above poverty. Aarong now supports 65,000 artisans with fair terms of trade and is an enterprise of BRAC.
Aarong’s products blend the traditional with the contemporary, making it a household name in Bangladesh. With 15 stores and a hundred fashion and lifestyle products, its presence outside Bangladesh is growing too, through its trade network and online shop, which is backed by a robust supply chain and distribution network.
As an enterprise that implements fair trade norms and social accountability, Aarong has set up an internal control and monitoring system. This compliance system includes 39 standards across 9 areas like cleanliness and sanitation, waste management, chemical management, fire safety and prevention, working conditions, infrastructure, production efficiency, human resource management and product and personal security. Earlier, the field officers used to carry out the procedures manually by visiting the production units. Adding to it, the paper-based reporting system made the entire process time-consuming and cumbersome. Further, a tedious process of data compilation and analysis was required to arrive at a rating for each standard. This rating would then have to be intimated to the producer groups, along with a corrective action plan. The field officers would have to visit the production units multiple times to monitor the progress made on the corrective action plan.
After a thorough review of requirements, it was found that SourceTrace ESE (eServices Everywhere) Certification platform perfectly suited Aarong’s social audit requirements. As a first step, it involved digitizing the producers’ information and capturing all the base parameters at field level. This information is made available at near real time to the management, which helps them with forward planning and corrective action. This helps manage risk and also enables monitoring of producers’ performance across diverse areas. Another unique feature is the use of GPS coordinates as well as visual data of the environment (photos) which is transmitted through the servers so that the management can review whether producers comply with the standards.
Aarong now enjoys several benefits owing to the new digitized system. It has a unique database for every producer, with details of age, gender and education level. The cost of field officers manually travelling in order to collect this data has been reduced to near zero. Digital record-keeping of data enables it to be available anytime, anywhere for the decision makers. The provision of capturing photos and GPS coordinates greatly aids the verification process – as we all know – seeing is believing.
Aditi Organic Certifications Pvt. Ltd. is a company that offers inspection and organic certification according to NPOP (National Program for Organic Production) and NOP (National Organic Program of the United States Department of Agricultural Standards) of a wide range of organic and agri-products. As a certification company, it holds the responsibility of conducting its operations in an impartial and professional manner. Most importantly, it has to manage conflict of interests and ensure objectivity in its management process.
Aditi’s portfolio comprises a wide range of products ranging from cereals and pulses to tea and coffee, cash crops, milk products, processed food, and even sustainable textiles. Aditi’s organic certification is based on the inspection of not just the end product but of the entire production system. Therefore it covers various aspects like review of the organic management plan, visit to processing lines, inspection of places where raw material is received, storage rooms, packing units and audit and inspection of records. With so many venues of inspection, the processes are as varied.
Through its mobile software applications and hardware that transacts and transmits data from remote areas, this high technology platform has the capability to streamline the inspection processes at field level.
The use of SourceTrace Systems applications have helped reduce the cost of information and delivery system. Timely and accurate information is available, and so is centralized data that feeds the management information system. The provision of capturing photo and GPS coordinates enables verification. Most of all, there is no duplication of data entry into multiple systems.
The idea of an Indian farmer conjures up a bleak picture. In the present time, it evokes the image of a man who is traumatised by the systems around him, who is constantly dealing with uncertainties, and whose income at the end of it all does not count for much. It was the desire to improve the lives of such farmers that motivated Shashank and Manish Kumar, alumni of IIT Delhi and IIT Kharagpur respectively, to set up Farms n Farmers (FnF) in 2010. With their experience in rural development, agriculture, supply chain, retail and FMCG, they decided to work with marginal farmers so as to revive the agricultural sector in the northern states of India. Setting up their head office in Patna, they also set up several field offices or Dehaati offices in the rural areas.
Manish and Shashank Kumar realized that they must give farmers innovative ways of farming if they desired to minimize the trauma and uncertainties faced by them. After spending months in the field, they found that farmers followed certain systems of doing things simply because it had been done that way all along. They also had no idea of whom to approach if something went wrong. FarmsnFarmers not only suggests innovations and inputs to mitigate such situations, but also bears the costs for them, like soil testing, for example. Once the innovations yielded profits, they shared in the gains. This has helped them build trust, and lay the foundation for more reforms and improvements.
FnF aims to help farmers through every stage of their product cycle, right from the field to the market place, cutting out middlemen and getting better prices for farm produce. They felt it was time that the agricultural sector benefits from the latest technologies and research and development. In implementing new technologies, FnF wanted to digitize their operations and enable remote transactions to improve efficiency. Until this time, all transactions were carried out using a manual paper-based system. There was no way for the management to get a real-time complete overview of the transaction status.
FnF deployed SourceTrace solutions, which involved the digitization of the farmer’s information and capturing of all the critical information at the field level. Ensuring that the farmers comply with the best practices has brought FnF closer to their primary goal of empowering them.
TNPL is the largest paper mill in Tamil Nadu with a turnover of more than 2000 crores. The plantation division of TNPL supplies 35per cent of their total raw material requirement of 0.5 million tonnes of pulp wood annually. To become self-reliant and to develop renewable and sustainable plantations in marginal and degraded lands, TNPL plantation division works with more than 9800 farmers having an area of nearly 40,000 acres across Tamilnadu. This provides fair returns to the small and marginal farmers while also making them understand modern technology in pulp wood tree farming.
Though the plantation department has strong man power strength, conventional methods of record keeping, extensive data collection and maintaining paper and file methods consume a lot of energy of field officers and shows up the possibility of losing the history of various planation schemes of the company. The farmers also sometimes may not co-operate with the management as they may not be aware of the market price of the pulp wood. There is always a threat of third party interventions by brokers tempting him to breach the contract and supply good part of the pulp wood to other buyers. Again this information comes to the notice of the management very late or sometimes they may never get this information at all.
In order to overcome these issues in plantation management system and to get the real time statistics and status of the various schemes, TNPL planned to adopt a modern remote data management solution of SourceTrace systems. This software adds transparency in distribution of inputs, monitoring of the plantation and procurement system and strengthens the overall value chain. It also helps the management to get information on filed staff efficiency in the work areas. Their mandated periodical visits to the farmer fields to monitor the plantation helps improve the relationship with the farmers which aids in improved overall performance of the company’s operations.
Framed in the lap of the majestic Himalayas, Suvidha (The Society for Upliftment of Villagers and Development of Himalayan Areas) was set up in 2004 as a grassroots level non-governmental organization working in the area of environment and sustainability among marginalized people. SUVIDHA works with small and marginal farmers to help improve their socio-economic conditions by supporting innovative ways of farming, market linkages (both domestic and international), and creating value for the farmer’s produce through certification. The last decade, has however, triggered considerable changes in the organic farming sector in terms of becoming more organized. Moreover, working with marginal farmers who are located across remote areas was bound to become more difficult.
By this time, Suvidha’s work in organizing and strengthening farmer groups had generated a manifold increase in the number of farmer groups. In managing the groups and their transactions, Suvidha was faced with the need to ensure higher levels of transparency, visibility and accountability. Hirdesh Kumar, General Manager-Projects, Suvidha, says that in the past, “all operations concerning the farmers were being done manually. The field staff used to visit the farmers and record the relevant data on paper. In such a scenario, there were greater chances of errors. There should be a more transparent way of recording member-level transactions”. Because of the manual data collection process, the management had further problems because they had to wait for days to get reports about transactions with the farmers. In the absence of a centralised real time information system, they were unable to take important decisions or share information with the policy makers and the government.
As a solution to address this problem, Suvidha decided to deploy the SourceTrace IT system. To begin with, a pilot was jointly conducted in Odisha in the year 2013, which covered 4850 farmers. Satisfied with the results, Suvidha went on to deploy the solution throughout their network. The system would facilitate data collection in the field, while also generating management reports and being a data source for further research and development. Leveraging existing mobile and wireless data networks, it worked even in remote locations where telecommunication infrastructure is minimal or non-existent.
The ESE solution thus provided transparency and visibility to transactions as well as accurate information at near real time. The company now has a way of tracing the produce from field to market. Information on the area of cultivation, both season-wise and crop-wise, is mapped. Digital mapping of farmland and farmer’s profile is also available, and so is data of field personnel and farmer information. Suvidha has cut farmer data collection cost by close to Rs 5 lakh per project by deployment of the SourceTrace platform!
The Vasundhara Agri-Horti Producer Company Ltd (VAPCOL) carries out the business of procurement, grading, marketing, selling and export of its primary produce – fruit and nut. Its area of operations is spread across Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Today, it has a membership base of 55 producer organisations; and is also a beneficiary of the BAIF supported wadi programme.
The farmers in these areas sell their produce to cooperatives; and Sitaram Gangaram Birar is one such tribal farmer from Navsari in south Gujarat who is a beneficiary of this wadi programme. He has been growing cashews and mangoes for the last 20 years. During every season, he collects his produce and takes it to the nearest Dixal cooperative to sell. It’s a long queue as he waits his turn, and it takes even longer at the collection centre as the staff grades, weighs and prepares the bill for collection of payment from the cooperative office. Despite the cumbersome procedure, at least it guaranteed a fair price. But not all farmers were able to carry on with this tiring and time-consuming process. Many of them ended up as easy bait for middlemen and traders who lured them with quick money, and then exploited them by under-weighment and low prices.
It’s said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And in this case it was the long waiting time spent by the farmers. Changing this seemingly small issue on the ground can bring about a significant and long standing overall impact.
VAPCOL soon fell into the process of strengthening its financial base not only by exploring new markets and finding access to finance, but also through technology use to reduce complexity of operations, improve efficiencies and manage output. VAPCOL accessed working capital credit through NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) under its Umbrella Programme for Natural Resource Management (UPNRM) and entered into partnership with SourceTrace Systems with the aim of “digitizing farmer information and enabling remote transactions”. As part of this partnership, SourceTrace deployed five modules of its ESE Agrisolution – farmer enrollment, input distribution, procurement and payment processing, inventory and traceability and Internal Control system for Organic and Fair Trade Certification.
As a provider of customized application software solutions, SourceTrace replaced the old billing machines and thermal printers with Android smart phones and Bluetooth printers. Apart from speeding up the billing process, the ESE Agrisolution is also used by field staff to capture all transactions at field level – even in hilly and remote terrains. It now holds a database of 1300 farmer profiles. By successfully piloting this at the Dixal cooperative, the rest of the cooperatives also came under SourceTrace’s coverage. It’s head, Jignesh Patel, says that each transaction now takes less than a minute – gone are the days of those serpentine queues, and far less the temptation for farmers to sell their produce to middlemen. For hundreds of farmers, saving time and effort became possible through the use of such a back-end web and mobile technology-based application.
This partnership programme became an award winning entry at 2015 [app] design awards ASIA under the category “Best expanded service or application”.