Escalate

Despite being an agricultural country, we don’t specialise in anything

- ALISHA SIJAPATI

Dec 3, 2018-

Deepak Tuladhar had spent more than seven years in the UK, working for a supply chain management company as an Human Resource manager, when he decided to start a new life from scratch. He returned to Nepal with a desire to start something on his own, he just didn’t know what yet. In their initial days in Nepal, Tuladhar and his partner began to travel across the country, visiting various districts to explore business opportunities. It was during this trip Tuladhar noticed that agriculture, the Nepali economy’s mainstay, was not doing so well. While farmers received meagre returns on their produce, customers were paying exorbitant prices. Middle-men seemed to be the only ones doing well. Given his experience in supply chain management, Tuladhar decided to help cut out the middle man, by becoming one himself, but a more ethical version. In 2016, Tuladhar started Farm to Finger, a company aims to link consumers directly to farmers, and provide both with the best value. In this interview with the Post’s Alisha Sijapati, Tuladhar talks about the growing interest in agriculture among young entrepreneurs and how different Farm to Finger is from other middle-men in the agriculture industry. Excerpts:

What prompted you to work with agriculture?  

Having studied business, I wanted to do something that hadn’t really been explored by young entrepreneurs here. Nepalis are more inclined towards investing in hydropower projects or tourism. But after meeting many farmers, I felt that there was a big hole in this sector and to fill that gap, we all needed to come up with new and creative approaches. There is a lot of work to be done in agriculture and if it becomes a smooth sailing sector, there are ample opportunities for people to benefit from it. The biggest challenge is that there are a lot of middle-men involved in this sector. For instance, if a farmer is selling a cucumber for Rs 10 to a middle man, by the time it reaches Kathmandu’s Kalimati vegetable bazaar, the price would have shot up to Rs 70. This is the biggest plight most farmers are facing currently. And that is where Farm to Finger comes in, to improve the situation between farmers and consumers.

You were a part of an acceleration programme that provided your company with much publicity. How have such programmes helped businesses like yours evolve?

When we joined the Growth Conclave, we were only about four months old and I knew I had to get into this for the sake of networking. My assumptions came to be true. When I was shortlisted for the programme, I was mentored by well-established businessmen Anand Tuladhar and Ajit Shah, who guided us with our plans. Before beginning the Growth Conclave, I was scattered, like a headless chicken. This programme gave me a sense of direction. When I started Farm to Finger, I didn’t jot down my plans; it happened spontaneously, but if you want to become serious, you need to be open to suggestions and this was a big eye opener for me.

There is growing interest in agriculture among young entrepreneurs. Why do you think this is? 

Agriculture is a go-to business now. Everyone wants to get involved because they know it can be a lucrative business for them, leading to maximum profit. Also, the media has been aggressively promoting agriculture. Today’s fresh young graduates are smart, energetic and enthusiastic, and they know how to get their work done. Having said that, they need to be more mindful about venturing into something. You necessarily don’t have to follow the pack, just be different because there are a lot of sub-sectors in agriculture that needs help.

What was your core objective behind starting Farm to Finger?

I looked at it both—personally and professionally. While I was travelling to many rural parts of the country, there was a certain emotional chord I felt with the farmers. The huge gap between the farmers and consumers created by layers of intermediaries was the biggest problem they struggled with. I wanted these farmers’ to have an easy life without having to deal with middle-men. Henceforth, Farm to Finger came into action.

As an entrepreneur, what problems did you face when starting out?

Our focus is to involve farmers and customers directly in the market. We have delivery drivers and collection centres to ease the problem. Initially, we created a network with the farmers who we were directly working with. However, over time, many people started to reach the market by themselves as they were offered better prices. At that point, we couldn’t forecast sustainability and it did bring problems. I have realised that there is a lot of emotional attachment too, so we have to think of the farmers’ sentiments as well before offering any deals.

As a supply chain management company, how are you different from other middle-men in the agriculture industry?

Middle-men have other middle-men and it’s a vicious cycle. There are so many layers. When we buy products from a group of farmers, we just give them to consumers. There is no price jump there because that’s the whole objective. We want the farmers and customers both to benefit. That’s how we want to be different. We have our partner farmers in Rukum too, and sometimes it is just not possible to order items overnight, so to ease things, we have collaborated with small co-operatives in rural areas that help us deliver products on time.

How has this venture benefitted farmers, consumers and you as an organisation?

The central objective is always providing our customers with the best quality products at reasonable rates and giving farmers their fair share. Over the years, we have tracked the pricing structure from farmers to the Kalimati bazaar. So, we offer our farmers more than 20 percent of the profit.

How are you able to offer more to producers while charging less to consumers? How does your business model allow this?

We are a supply chain management company. If you look at the business cycle, there is a producer who sells a vegetable item at Rs 100, then the local trader will charge Rs108, once it reaches the whole-seller, it is priced at 120, leading its way to a cooperative at Rs 130, while for transportation it is Rs 140. By the end of the day, when the item reaches Kalimati bazaar, they charge Rs 160 and lastly, the vegetable wheelers sell it for Rs 200. We, on the other hand, just stick to Rs 160, giving maximum profit to the farmers.

How do you add value to the products you are marketing?

We are working on it. We are buying raw materials and giving new packages. We have also ventured into stinging nettle (sisnu) powder on a small scale to add more value. Let’s just say, we are trying to do new things.

Despite being a predominantly agricultural country, why do you think we are heavily dependent on imports?

Pre-dominantly, each and every country specialises in a certain product. Unfortunately, we don’t specialise in anything. In the agriculture sector, nothing is happening on a large scale. Farmers have limited production and so, cannot sustain a large market. The demand is high and the supply equally less.

What sector of the agriculture industry in Nepal desperately needs improvement?

The supply chain model needs to be well monitored and organised. People involved in this field need to be trained rigorously.

Where do you go from here, how are you looking to expand?

Farm to Finger is small. In agriculture, we want to set up a farm and eventually start our own outlet, ‘Aali dekhi thaali samma’ that’ll come with various refined agro-products. Lastly, promote business value.

What sort of agro products do you supply and where do you sell them? What’s your customer base like?

So far, we have Jumli beans, apples, black beans, black rice, Marsi rice and honey. We deliver them to consumers and corporate houses that connect with us online. Our customers are usually upper-middle class people who are more tech-friendly.

As a trading company, are you benefitting from this business?

Since we started our journey, it has proved to become a sustainable business. There is slow growth and we are reinvesting everything we earn. There hasn’t been a break-even moment. Such experiences have kept me on my toes.

What is the competition like?

To be honest, there are companies who are doing better business than I am. They also follow the same model but our approaches are different. All our competitors keep meeting each other often. We share our struggles and help each other.

For others looking to work with agriculture, what advice do you have?

There are a lot of opportunities in agriculture, whether it is in the supply chain, production or harvest. You need patience to start something. You aren’t going to make profits or be recognised overnight. You need to stick to the ground. Only a person with the right attitude will get ahead.

Published: 03-12-2018 08:13

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