Ninjacart, one of the country’s largest tech-driven supply chain platforms connecting fresh vegetable and fruit growers with grocery stores and retail chains, will create an agri marketplace platform that will enable farmers to earn a fair price for their produce, the start-up’s top official has said.
The platform, which will be also hosted by the startup, will be set up “in the coming quarter”, said Thirukumaran Nagarajan, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Ninjacart, told BusinessLine.
MoU with Agri Ministry
The firm has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare to strengthen market linkages and promote best practices in the farming sector. The setting up of the agri marketplace platform is in tune with the MoU signed with the Agriculture Ministry.
Sharing Ninjacart’s plans for expansion this year, Nagarajan said his firm is partnering with Kilofarms, an agritech start-up, to promote residue-free farming methods.
Further, Ninjacart plans to invest in modern technology to accelerate its ecosystem. “This will help us strengthen our position as a one-stop- solution for all the needs of farmers, retailers, small businesses, and kirana (grocery) stores,” he said.
Agri seed fund
The start-up has launched “Agri seed Fund”, an initiative to strengthen innovation and accelerate disruption across the agriculture sector through seed investments over the next two years. “The investment is intended to boost the agri-ecosystem by supporting innovative ideas and enabling enterprising teams to take off the ground,” Nagarajan said.
It has also formed an alliance with Avanti Finance to digitise the whole agri-ecosystem and become a single point of contact for all agri needs. Through this partnership, Ninjacart plans to co-create and make available relevant credit products to the farming community at a reasonable cost, he said
Ninjacart, which began implementing an employee stock ownership plan for its staff this year, has acquired Tecxprt, which has extensive experience in integrating SaaS-based end-to-end solutions and enabling the creation of powerful networks.
Dwelling on his company’s journey since its launch in 2015, Nagarajan said the Covid lockdown gave the company an opportunity to work towards its vision of establishing a traceability infrastructure to keep track of fresh produce from its origin to any given stage of the supply chain.
The firm also launched FoodPrint to know everything about “the food we eat” on World Food Day, June 7. This helps trace the produce, starting by identifying the farmer, the date and time of harvest, the truck that carries the produce, the warehouse that processes it, the helper who handled the product at the warehouse, the retailer who buys the product and, finally, how it was delivered to the consumer’s doorstep. This ensures total transparency, he said.
During the Covid lockdown, operations at Ninjacart came to a standstill during the initial period in March 2020 as the government regulations were unclear. “Despite that, we worked around the clock to fill the gap between supply and demand by deploying several initiatives. Our problem-solving approach helped the entire supply chain network one way or the other,” the Ninjacart co-founder-cum-CEO said.
Reaching out to consumers
Its initiatives helped farmers to sell their produce directly to the end consumers. At the same time, it benefited consumers as they were able to buy fresh produce at subsidised rates, he said.
At one point of time with fear gripping consumers, Ninjacart reached out to consumers through social media and circulated a Google form for people in residential complexes to order fresh produce in bulk, he said.
“It was a huge success, and we helped thousands of people in seven cities — Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Gurugram, Mumbai, and Pune during the lockdown,” Nagarajan said.
In addition, Ninjacart was flooded with calls from farmers seeking its help in finding end consumers as they were left stranded with their harvested produce. “It was time to step up and help our farmers as a way of showing gratitude and support. We launched the ‘Harvest The Farm’ initiative asking consumers to buy fresh produce from Ninjacart at cheaper prices through Swiggy, Zomato, and Dunzo. With the existing supply chain in place, we identified the farmer with a ready harvest, purchased their produce, and helped them recover their cost,” the firm’s co-founder said.
‘Farmer harvest calendar’
Ninjacart uses AI (artificial intelligence) applications, data science, and an integrated logistics network allowing farmers to utilise the infrastructure and sell their produce. It has developed a “Farmer Harvest Calendar” that makes growers aware of what is expected of them in the following days, leading to a drop in farmers’ travel time to the markets.
“This way, we eradicate unwanted demand and unfair market practices and provide better returns to farmers. It is an organised process where price and demand confirmation is given to them before harvesting is commenced by setting both purchasing and selling prices using an average of national prices to avoid price risk,” he said.
Farmers are paid within 24 hours and its platform keeps a tab on the movement of vegetables and fruits across the supply chain. At the village level, it has set up collection centres within 15-20 km of each farmer for sorting, grading and quality control. Again, the produce is shifted to the “fulfilment centre” where it undergoes another inspection before benign sent for distribution.
Funding for the firm
Ninjacart, which delivers fresh produce within 12 hours of its harvest, uses RFID tagging before storing, does app-monitored loading and unloading and tracks movement through GPS for optimisation of routes.
On the changes it has brought to the lives of farmers working with it, Nagarajan said Ninjacart provides gives “proper market value, makes prompt payments and provides better market linkage”.
The Ninjacart co-founder and CEO said the firm received $8.5 million Series A funding in February 2016 from Accel India, Qualcomm and M&S partners, $35 million Series B funding in October 2018 from Syngenta Ventures, Nandan Nilekani and Mistletoe among others and $100 million Series C funding in April 2019 from Tiger Global and two other firms.
In December 2019, the startup raised undisclosed funding from Flipkart and Walmart. This was followed by a $30 million funding in October 2020 and another $150 million funding in December last year from both of them, he said.