"MarketMirchi is aiming to level the playing field by giving Indian farmers genuine price discovery.” In a heart-warming exchange with The Reformist, Pragati Gokhale talks in depth about MarketMirchi and its role in improving farmer incomes by bridging the gap between sellers and buyers of agricultural commodities.
What is the mission “Mera Mobile Mera Marketing” and why has it created such a buzz in the “development sector”?
Mission “Mera Mobile Mera Marketing” via MarketMirchi.com is a pan India movement through which we are empowering farmers, farmer producer organizations, self-help groups to do Free Online marketing of their produce and other intermediary products via their mobiles. Our goal is to make rural stakeholders “Atmanirbhar” for their marketing. Historically, geographic barriers between farmers and retail consumer have prevented farmers from realizing the price discovery. Farmers sell their produce at a pittance to agrarian commodity brokers who realize profits by selling the same at the retail market. MarketMirchi solves this problem by directly linking farmers to end consumers via their smartphone. The MarketMirchi app, available on the Google play store, is customized to be friendly for the demography it aims to target.
In an earlier interview, you had mentioned that you conduct capacity building programs with farmer collectives and farmers who wish to use to the “MarketMirchi” platform. What challenges do farmers face in using digital platforms and how does your capacity building program help solve them?
To be frank, challenges existed in the past but do not exist at present. In my journey over the past nine years, I have witnessed drastic change. In 2013-14, we had first developed this platform. Internet penetration was non-existent at the bottom of the pyramid. We used to visit exhibitions such as Khadi exhibitions, Handloom exhibitions among others where rural stakeholders had their stalls. We would interact with farmers at these exhibitions to enquire about produce which they wished to sell online.
Following the conversation, our data entry operators back home would upload the information on MarketMirchi.com. However, because we were doing it for them, a disconnect/gap existed. I would like to bring up an example which further elaborates on this point. Farmers would post an advertisement and would forget about them until buyers contacted them after some time. Once a group of farmers based in Hosur, Tamil Nadu had placed an order for the sale of herbal oil on MarketMirchi. However, they had forgotten about it until a buyer from Germany showed interest. Fortunately, my phone number was also mentioned in the advertisement and I could link the farmers with the buyer. However, the disconnect existed as farmers could not monitor the status of their advertisements on a real time basis. Someone else was monitoring the status of their advertisements.
Things changed after Prime Minister Modi launched the “Digital India” mission in 2016. Because of this, internet penetration reached the grassroots of rural India. The small, handy, and affordable smartphones became game changers.
The story of our Mission Mera Mobile Mera Marketing Via Marketmirchi is also interesting one. In 2016, I had gone to Bhuj for giving training on Marketmirchi in Agri exhibition. My laptop suddenly stopped, and a youngster suggested that I can train Farmers on using Marketmirchi by using Marketmirchi.com on Mobile . At that moment, it suddenly dawned on me that the mobile was a far more potent platform for MarketMirchi. On the same day, a talented girl at the reception desk announced “Maro Mobile Se Maro Marketing” (my mobile for my marketing). On that day, there was a long line of farmers enquiring about how they could use MarketMirchi on their mobiles to sell produce such as Pomegranates, Cotton. So that day we named our mission, as “Mera Mobile Mera Marketing”via Marketmirchi.
Today, every rural family has one smartphone, and this had made MarketMirchi successful. Now, as to your question about overcoming digital barriers, the key lies in the design of the mobile application. A farmer who is not literate can get comfortable with the application in under two minutes because of its user-friendly nature. Within two minutes, farmers can post advertisements and can contact buyers within next five minutes as we show him call list of all buyers immediately after posting his Ad. It’s a combination of simplicity and speed. The app is multilingual. A farmer using the application can post an advertisement in a single click without prior registration and get information about prospective buyers at an instant. While posting the advertisement, farmers can just put the number (denoting value) they wish to receive for the produce without mentioning the currency. They can even state whether the price is negotiable by putting 0 in price box.
Thereafter, farmers will be directed to the registration button where first-time users must just feed in their name, address, district, a mobile number & a simple password. This information is at the fingertips of every individual, irrespective of their literacy. Once a user posts the advertisement, the app sorts buyers based on their activity. The website algorithm ranks active buyers and sellers higher vis-à-vis buyers who are not as active. Thus, farmers posting an advertisement for the first time can quickly identify active buyers and contact them and also become active seller by calling many buyers (For each call his active rank increases by 2 points).
One aspect that makes your platform unique is that it ranks buyers and sellers based on their activity on the website. The more the activity, the higher the rank. How did this idea of an activity-based ranking come about?
Our is a free and open social mission. Thus, those who are active on the website/App are given a higher priority. I recollect an instance where farmers had posted an advertisement for the sale of Haldi. On not being able to find buyers, farmers contacted me claiming that no one had shown interest in their products. I told them they too could actively contact buyers and benefit by achieving a higher rank and more visibility than their counterparts. This activity-based ranking is deeply intertwined with our purpose of helping farmers that need the most help.
You have mentioned in an earlier interview that the MarketMirchi platform makes market linkage for bulk buying and selling of agricultural raw materials and intermediate products. Can someone also be use MarketMirchi for retail buying and selling? Does MarketMirchi also assist small-scale farmers in linking up with farmer collectives and FPO’s enabling them to use the MarketMirchi platform?
MarketMirchi can be used for retail buying and selling. However, for commodities like grains, pulses procurement is largely by businesses. Large brands such as Big Basket & Ninja Cut are also buying some of their materials through MarketMirchi. However, the application is just as it does not discriminate between sellers based on their sales volume. It ranks buyers and sellers based on their activity. Thus, sellers who are more active will get ranked higher.
How do you identify regions where farmers can benefit from access to a market linkage platform such as MarketMirchi?
IIT Bombay through Coal India Project, one of our patrons, has asked to do workshops in the sixty aspirations districts of India to promote the MarketMirchi platform. We will begin these workshops shortly, starting from the Eastern state of Odisha. Also Nabard ,Baif ,Nrlm are organising trainings for rural stakeholders on how to effectively use Marketmirchi.com IIT Bombay has also prepared several explainer videos in regional languages which are promoted via community-based radio stations to generate a buzz among rural stakeholders for the application. The financial capital for the same is provided by IIT Bombay under its rural technology action project. They also provide us with technical support if required. We use data mining also to identify prospective buyers who will find the produce sold by our farmers useful. In this manner, we also continually expand the geographical base of our buyer pool so that farmers across different parts of India find MarketMirchi a useful platform to sell their produce.
This interview was conducted on 27th of May 2022