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Food for thought

Prashant Mehta
16th February 2020

The fresh produce we eat changes hands 5-8 times before reaching its final destination. This means that farmers get little transparency on the value of their crop because, in most cases, it takes 20-30 days for them to receive payment. Stack all these inefficiencies one on top of the other, and literally 30%-40% of the food produced in India goes to waste – the highest rate in the world!

We all, as a society, need to take greater responsibility. If we don’t, in less than 20 years, India’s food security problem will become critical – there won’t be enough food for most people alive today. We have the 2nd largest arable land area in the world, yet we also have the largest number of the world’s malnourished children.

Our country’s poor infrastructure makes it virtually impossible to deliver food cost-efficiently to all corners of this diverse nation. Most people reading this blog will have no idea how the food from their last meal traveled from the farm to their plate. The fresh produce we eat – tomatoes, potatoes, onions – changes hands 5-8 times before reaching its final destination. This means that farmers get little transparency on the value of their crop because, in most cases, it takes 20-30 days for them to receive payment. Stack all these inefficiencies one on top of the other, and literally 30%-40% of the food produced in India goes to waste – the highest rate in the world! Consumers, kirana stores, retailers, and restaurants all suffer. As consumers, we end up eating days-old food and, in many cases, lack access to sufficient variety. Given the number of touchpoints our food transits, dismal infrastructure, and massive wastage in the system, it’s actually surprising that the crisis hasn’t percolated earlier or with more velocity.

I had no awareness of the severity of this problem until I met Karthik Jayaraman, aka KJ, co-Founder and CEO of WayCool. Over the past nine months, KJ and his partner, Sanjay Dasari, have patiently indulged our whole team in helping us understand why the collective “we” needs to take greater responsibility and act today. WayCool is re-imagining the food supply chain and, in the process, changing  consumer expectations of the quality of food. This fundamental shift also positively impacts the livelihood of farmers across the country. WayCool has built deep direct relationships with tens of thousands of farmers. Their expert team of agri-tech engineers works closely with the farming community to help improve yields by better input recommendations. They also ensure soil erosion is limited by planting a combination of crops that balance nutrient absorption. Farmers have seen improved yields and lower soil erosion, making it possible to produce crops consistently and with more predictability. Crops picked up by WayCool go directly into their tech-enabled warehouses, where each crate is weighed and quality of the product is assessed while the crates are moving on conveyer belts. Farmers are instantly notified of the value of their crops and payment is made within seven days. Each warehouse is automated to ensure the least number of hands touch the food as it is sorted and readied for dispatch. Procuring fresh produce based on orders received has resulted in 97%+ order fill rates, something most customers (retailers, restaurants, etc.) have not seen in years.

What we loved about KJ and team is the conviction with which they are solving one of India’s most complex problems. They are also attacking it with zero short cuts: Deploying technology solutions to help reduce food waste to less than 3%. Delivering fresher produce to our tables. And doing all this while also improving farmer livelihoods and increasing their incomes by 20%. KJ and his team have taken action; it is now time for the rest of us to act, today!

P.S: Through this nine-month journey, I have learned more than I did during the two years of my MBA.

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