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And now, malls for farmers

Surinder Sud | August 10, 2004

If you think shopping malls are chiefly for the urban elite, think again. Farmers, big and small, too, now have access to exclusive agricultural malls that have a similar trade ambience. These shopping complexes offer a diversity of agriculture-related goods and services, including expert advice.

Called Haryali Kisaan Bazaars, these utility shopping centres have been set up by the DCM Shriram Consolidated Ltd, an agri-business company with 35 years of experience in dealing with rural customers.

The company is already into the sugar, fertiliser and farm inputs marketing businesses, besides operating over 100 Shriram Krishi Vikas Kendras (farm development centres) for helping farmers to advance their commercial interests through improved technology and better management.

The Haryali Bazaars seek to cater to all needs of farmers, under one roof. Besides selling farm inputs, including fertilisers, seeds, pesticides, animal feeds and so on, these complexes also deal in farm implements, spare parts, irrigation equipment, spraying equipment and other material farmers have to buy from the market.

Importantly, they do not stock only DSCL products but provide farmers a choice from the entire range of good quality products. And prices are clearly displayed to ensure complete transparency in business dealing.

The unique aspect of these complexes is that the salesmen are agricultural graduates, capable of giving relevant and problem-solving advice to the farmers. Each complex has a farmers' training centre attached, where they are taught ways of maximising their returns from agriculture.

Dressed in yellow T-shirts, the farm advisor-cum-salesmen stand out in the complexes; they have been given mobile phones so as to be accessible at all times to technical queries from farmers. The complexes strive to develop a long-lasting relationship with their farmer-customers by maintaining computerised records of each farmer's agri-business.

Already, nine Haryali bazaars are functioning in the northern agricultural belt. These are located at Ladwa in Haryana; two complexes at Ferozepur in Punjab; Kota in Rajasthan; and four in Uttar Pradesh at Shahjehanpur (Lakhim Kheri), Rupapur and Mohamadipur in Hardoi and Ramraj, near Meerut. Two more complexes are scheduled to open within a month in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. The first Haryali centre had come up in Hardoi in July 2002.

The company plans to set up at least 20 more Haryali centres by 2005, and 100 in the next five years. Since each centre is estimated to cater to between 10,000 and 15,000 farmers from 80 to 100 villages, the proposed chain is likely to impact the lives of about one crore rural people.

Each Haryali complex is spread over two to three acres of land with situation-specific infrastructure. They have warehouses for agri-inputs as well as farm produce. Some even have veterinary centres -- with qualified doctors and medical facilities -- attached to them.

For DSCL, the Haryali complex is a farmer-welfare-oriented commercial venture. The aim is to help boost the pace of modernisation of agriculture and use this process for generating commercially-sustainable businesses.

DSCL chairman Ajay Shriram and vice-chairman Vikram Shriram are keen on utilising the synergies of their diverse agri-businesses to develop the Haryali movement into a commercially-viable business model. These centres are already breaking even and attempts are on to further improve their commercial viability even while ensuring maximum value to farmers.

The motivation for treading on this novel path seems to have come from the Shriram brothers' conviction that commercially-sustainable business models can be the vehicles for bringing about a prosperity revolution in rural areas.

The roadmap they have chalked out to achieve this goal is four-pronged: provision of right inputs of the right quality at the right time; last-mile delivery of latest and relevant agricultural technology; low-cost and fair financing; and direct market linkages for the farmers' produce. "We are committed to treating the farmer with dignity and maintaining the highest standards of transparency and integrity in our dealings," they maintain.

DSCL is in touch with a few banks to open their outlets and set up ATMs at the Haryali bazaars. It is also considering arranging for agricultural insurance. Some other services, such as direct marketing, information technology-based market intelligence and weather information, are also on the cards.

Significantly, the experience gathered through the Haryali chain has demolished several myths concerning farmers' behaviour as customers. They are not out to buy cheaper stuff; they want assured quality and the right quantity and are willing to pay for what they want. For instance, one of the Haryali complexes offered farmers the choice between local-made and factory-manufactured sickles.

The farmers opted for the latter despite the cost difference. Besides, farmers' hunger for sound technical advice has also been ascertained. Haryali's technical experts usually get over 20 calls on their mobile phones every day for agronomic and other guidance.

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