Let’s look at fruit in a supermarket in, say, Hull. Map the supply chain from end-to-end. At source there are contract farmers producing to an agreed specification and paid according to set terms of trade. Shelf ready packaging moves from field to fixture and logistics are in place to achieve this ever better, cheaper and faster. Now, buy fruit from a street vendor in Mumbai or Moscow and retrace the same end-to-end process. 

The street vendor sources fruit through a network of agents and distributors. There is no transparency from end-to-end and, the farmer who grows it and the vendor who sells it earn the least. Because the producer and the vendor have no assets, they borrow from loan sharks and their entrepreneurial risk taking generates no more than a precarious survival. As world population grows from 6 to 9 billion by 2050 and, environmental concerns argue for more local produce; there is a need to challenge the assumptions that drive produce end-to-end generating such asymetrical outcomes.

The pioneering work of the Kaushlya Foundation in India illustrates how the status quo can be transformed. Working with vendors on the streets and farmers in remote rural districts they have worked through the value chain and are making significant improvements throughout the process.

Instead of opting for a high salaried job, Mr Kaushlendra, a graduate from the IIM (Indian Institute of Management), Ahmedabad has set up a Foundation to help poor vegetable growers, vendors and farm labourers in Bihar.

Under a project called Samriddhi, the Kaushlendra Foundation, has created a supply chain and linked together vegetable growers and vendors in the state. Project staff collect the vegetables from the growers and supply them to street vendors.

Going deeper into the supply chain, the program supplies high quality vegetable seeds to farmers through a tie up with reputed seed suppliers and crop growing services to them. This is all about process. There’s more.

Kaushlya has identified the need to develop partnerships between farmers and vendors focussing mutually beneficial interests. In an interview with the Hindu, Kaushlendra explains: “To maintain product integrity and continuity from source to customer, our company established an integrated supply chain which connects and maintains the goods flow from the source (growers) to customers road-side vendors, organised retail, food service and hospitality industry.”  

About 600 farmers, 300 vegetable vendors, 11 Farmers Self Help Groups and 26 women vegetable vendors are associated with the organisation at present. The main contribution has been to demonstrate the value of collective action.

As Ms Poonam Devi, a member of the Group, puts it: “Before, I took credit from money lenders (a hefty 10% a day) in the absence of any other facility after my husband’s death. Local policemen and others had fleeced me. My daily earnings were poor; I could barely afford food and the kids couldn’t attend school.” Today, with the help of the Group, Poonam feels confident and empowered and, her kids are at school. There is much to learn from this approach and in the next few weeks TL hopes to learn more of the work of the Group and, its impact all along the supply chain. In particular, the self help groups that can offset the lack of finance from the formal sector that allows the unscrupulous to maintain the inefficiencies in the system.

Any thoughts?