“Technology has been instrumental in streamlining inefficiencies in India’s Food Supply Chain”: In conversation with Thirukumaran Nagaranjan, Ninjacart


India’s food supply chain has been through a fierce transformation in the past two decades as technology continues to be a decisive factor in changing the food landscape of the country. Thirukumaran Nagarajan, Co-founder and CEO of Ninjacart, a leading B2B fresh produce supply chain company, talks about agro-logistics, the challenges enroute the “Farm to Fork” strategy and attaining transparency in the supply chain.

1. How do you leverage technology to develop a transparent supply chain that deals in temperature- sensitive products as fresh produce?

At Ninjacart, technology has been instrumental in streamlining inefficiencies in India’s food supply chain. One of the aspects that set us apart from our competitors is our processing time. We buy fresh produce directly from farmers and deliver it to supermarkets, small businesses, and grocery stores around the country within 12 hours.

The Ninjacart supply chain relies on vehicle route planning for transporting tonnes of fresh produce from farms to retailers in under 12 hours. Our algorithms automate the planning and optimization of logistics by mapping 1000+ routes for vehicles crisscrossing 15 states for delivering to customers daily across 11 cities.

Farmers who work with Ninjacart gain insight into the demand and supply of produce that is in line with market demands. For example, we analyse consumer purchasing history and order frequency to determine the type of produce that needs to be procured. After analysing the data we release ‘Harvest the Farm’ calendar with farmers which includes the weather forecast. This way, we notify farmers about what is required of them for that particular month and neutralize wastage.  We transport a tonne of fresh produce every day, and handling such large volumes without misplacing them is made possible by our in-house ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and real-time tracking mechanism. Ninjacart uses RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips on crates to bring transparency by tracking the movement of vegetables and fruits across the supply chain as they move through numerous processes and facilities. We keep track of fresh produce at all stages of the supply chain before it hits the retailers. Furthermore, the implementation of traceability infrastructure has expanded our ability to adapt residue-free farming methods.

Machine learning / Artificial Intelligence is also used in enhancing customer experience and value

  1. An automated, goal-seeking revenue and margin optimizing pricing system that considers both supply and demand side constraints
  2. Customer segmentation, temporal, personalised, product frequency-based model to recommend the set of products and offers

2.      How are agritech startups changing the face of the agriculture industry?

Startups have disrupted a wide range of industries all over the world, and India is frequently regarded as the true guidepost for innovative and game-changing products. Specifically, in the Agritech sector in the last five years we have seen innovative startups entering the market hoping to improve pre and post market linkage for farmers. Earlier, constant intervention of multiple middlemen made it difficult for farmers to sell their produce at the right cost and earn a decent profit.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and advanced technologies have served as a driving force in the supply chain, allowing agritech companies to increase efficiency, eliminate waste, lower costs, and maintain market competitiveness. Advanced technology and the Internet of Things have the ability to change agriculture in many ways, and momentum has grown since the nationwide lockdown. It has made it easier to work on large-scale operations like agriculture planning, logistics, and internal communication in ways that would have been difficult without advanced technologies.

The Agritech startups are helping farmers become better decision makers with the help of technology such as Drone imagery, weather data, historical yield data, in conjunction with the IoT making their farms more efficient. For instance, we at Ninjacart follow residue free farming methods to increase farm productivity and consistency, empowering farmers with emerging technology concepts like moisture sensors, data analytics, software, and many other tools

As for demand, demand for healthier food is demanded, food waste in India has to be reduced urgently, quality management and traceability are helping to boost the country’s acceptance of agritech. Agritech players are focusing on developing end-to-end relations with farmers. In order to manage supply chains after harvest, they are investing in a robust digital platform and a physical infrastructure. Finally,the use of data-driven agricultural precision techniques to increase performance.

3.      What are the challenges that you face in the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy ?

Ninjacart began operations in 2015 as a B2C hyperlocal delivery grocery model, delivering fresh produce directly from retailers to end consumers.  We pivoted our business model to B2B soon after operating in full capacity for six months. We realised that the supply side of fresh produce is fragmented and retailers had to compromise with the quality of fresh produce.

Given the complexities of the food supply chain, it took us nearly a year to determine if this model will work. From overnight trips in Mandis to persuading retail outlets and small businesses to be a part of Ninjacart outlets, we have come a long way. We faced numerous challenges in developing a robust infrastructure that will be backed by data, as all functions are informed to us via data. It was difficult to gain trust because farmers typically use middlemen and prefer to work with a known face rather than a tech startup.

Then there was figuring out a way to make fresh produce pricing more consistent. In view of the perishable nature of their goods, farmers would more often sell their produce at a loss. We therefore needed a solution to give farmers a high value while ensuring that the end party would achieve the best possible output.

Post-harvest losses were caused by a lack of connectivity, insufficient storage infrastructure, and a mismatch in supply and demand, which had to be controlled by providing appropriate harvesting tools and equipment. We also had to train/educate the farmers at the same time Furthermore, introducing more sophisticated management and new technologies to reduce the difficulties faced by retailers, such as time-consuming procurement processes, poor quality management, and competitive pricing.

This is an abridged interview. To read the complete interview, click here.

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