R. Ashwatha, who is a farmer has numerous things to think and worry about be it the pests, fluctuating prices, weather, and many more like this. The previous year, he was less worried than his neighbour in Anur village of Sidlaghatta taluk, Chikkaballapura district, Karnataka.
The main crop of the farmers in that area is capsicum. His neighbour sold Capsicums at the price ranging from Rs. 12 to Rs. 28 per kg whereas Ashwatha was sure he would get Rs. 30 per kg as he was in a contract with the agritech startup, Clover in Bangalore. Clover picks up the produce from Ashwatha’s greenhouse. He is aware of the market price which tends to go up to Rs. 60 per kg when there is a shortage of supply and more of the demand, but he contends with the stable price.
His crops are less vulnerable to the pests and the weather conditions compared to his ancestors who grew vegetables for the consumers in Bangalore 65 km away. Three years ago, he adopted precision farming with greenhouses. Every now and then at the periodic interval, an agronomist from Clover visits his farm. The agronomist suggests and advises him on the cultivation schedules as well as crop maintenance including the introduction of new vegetables like zucchini.
Ashwatha’s first choice wasn’t Clover in agritech. He was engaged with an Indo-Dutch venture, FoodTechIndia previously. Ashwatha says, ” I had a tie-up with them for two crops, but the problem was support. Clover’s regular visits help.”
Costs are lowered on pesticides due to the protected environment in the greenhouses which increases the growth of capsicum to nearly 60 tonnes a season compared to that of 22 tonnes an acre in the open field earlier. The recovery expectations of the amount spent on the greenhouse structure are three years. Presently, the predictability of his farming he fond of.
He gets weekly payments for the produce that is collected from the farm. There is no need to carry his produce to the government APMC market, which is 18 km away, struggle with the middlemen, and wait for his delayed payments. Ashwath says, “Assured returns give me the confidence to go ahead with the cultivation without compromising on inputs costs.”
Industrial Way of Approach
The ring of greenhouses clover supports, in Bengaluru helps it handle the most basic issue of predictability and consistency of horticulture output to walk in pace with the urban consumer demand.
Co-founder of clover Avinash B. R. says, “We do the orchestration for our network of farms. We know which farmer is going out of cycle for a crop and the appropriate time for another farmer to plant the crop keeping in mind the demand for that SKU.”
Before jumping into entrepreneurship, Avinash was a manager for Bosch. He comes from an automotive background. Avinash correlates Clover’s approach to Toyota which specifies the quality and quantity of components from the vendors and supports them to produce the parts. “That’s the kind of industrial approach we are bringing into the volatile entity like farming,” he says.
Clover wishes to build a brand that promises quality in perishable vegetables for the consumers. “We pick up produce and sell to consumers, which makes a supply chain agile and fast,” says Avinash.
The COVID-19 pandemic has stuck the startup hard. They were serving hotels, retailers, and restaurants before the COVID-19 crisis and did have a predictable demand. Later, they came up with a B2C model reaching out to the Kirana stores and apartment complexes. Furthermore, they plan a website and app for consumers to order directly. Avinash says, “We were looking to a B2C down the line but COVID has advanced the timeline.”
Switching to B2C is not easy. The B2B sales team had to be reassigned and new systems were built. Even during the lockdown, the startup ensured that all the farm produce was picked up and distributed. in Bangalore one of its warehouses was an upon time zone half the workers did show up at the other two co-founders pitched in, sorting grading and packing. “The first three or four weeks were intense,” says Avinash.
Directly to Consumers
A positive outcome from the pandemic was an upward trend in inquiries from farmers which included floriculturists who were affected by traditional sales outlets shutting which meant managing double SKUs from 40 to 80 and in new areas, getting the best practices for farmers.
Avinash Aadarsh co-founders Santosh Narasipura Gururaj Rao and Arvind Murali who are childhood friends grew up and study in engineering in Bangalore. in 2018 the four friends came together and created an experimental farm near Nelamangala in Bangalore. They got other farmers to adopt the model.
When they were in stealth mode, the seed funding they got was from Accel and Mayfield. Just before the pandemic, in February, series A round of $5.5 million was led by Omnivore and in the previous month, a debt funding of nearly $1 million was from Alteria as COVID accelerated the progress. With its hub-and-spoke model, Clover has expanded to Hyderabad.