E-FASAL: Democratizing Supply Chain in Rural Market

    Dr. Ravindra Pastor, CEO, E-FASAL

    With the objective to democratize and simplify the supply chain in the rural market, Dr. Ravindra Pastor and Anindita Das co-founded Indore-based E-FASAL (Electronics, Farming Solutions Associates). The former is a retired IAS officer and the latter an MBA graduate from Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, who had worked in the rural livelihood & value chain commercialization vertical of the Rockefeller Foundation. Today, E-FASAL is present in all the districts of Madhya Pradesh and supplies seeds to several other states. Rural Marketing’s N. Bobo Meitei interacted with CEO Dr. Ravindra Pastor to get a wider picture.

    Kindly share the journey so far and what motivated you to launch?

    I was in the Madhya Pradesh government as an Indian Administrative Service officer and retired in 2017. I co-founder E-FASAL (Electronics, Farming Solutions Associates Pvt. Ltd) with Anindita Das, who is an MBA graduate from Indian School of Business Hyderabad, and had worked with the Rockefeller Foundation in rural livelihood and value chain commercialization. The idea behind the initiative was to democratize the supply chain in the rural market since companies or manufacturers, national or international, were working in a monopolistic manner. This made small and marginal agro retailers unable to access their products at affordable prices, and therefore farmers were not able to get good products at affordable prices. This motivated us to start E-FASAL in Madhya Pradesh with its head office in Indore. This is a Business to Business model in which those who have become a franchisee get access to 150+ quality manufacturers across all agro input segments such as fertilizers, seeds, pesticides, bio-products, farm machineries, dairy, poultry products, etc at optimal price without investing in dealership /distributorship of these manufacturers . We now have our presence in all the 52 districts of the state. We also supply vegetable seeds to states like Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

    How much has it grown since the launch?

    Today, there are more than 3500 shops to whom we supply materials, and there are 40+ FPO (Farmer Producer Organizations), and small-and medium-sized entrepreneurs and a few big retailers to whom we have been giving materials. Some agricultural startups also take materials from us.

    How do you differentiate your sourcing model from those in the competition?

    Let me discuss the example of fertilizer here. There are other fertilizer wholesalers who usually take materials from dealers who take it from the manufacturer and then the dealers take it to their godowns and they supply to the retailers. E-FASAL directly links retailers to the manufacturers. We generate the third party fertilizer bill, and the manufacturers send the fertilizers to the franchisees. Thus we have reduced the multiple handlings and have made it cost-effective, this also ensures the quality by not giving another part to adulterate the products. Besides, the price is also of the wholesalers’.

    You have mentioned that you are in all the districts of Madhya Pradesh. But are you targeting other states or markets as well?

    We are focusing on Madhya Pradesh because the state has 12 agro-climatic zones, and it is a huge state, and, therefore, the market is big. We first want to consolidate our positioning in the state, so that we can set up the conduit as well as the process on the ground. After that we might plan to go to other states.

    What criteria does an applicant need to fulfill to become your franchisee?

    There is no criteria because we don’t want a monopoly in the market. Like I said, we want to democratize the supply chain. Suppose in any given market, we supply to all retailers. Since this is a regulated market, dealers or suppliers need to obtain a license from the authority. As long as they have the license, then we can supply it. We are doing this because in agriculture we cannot copy the FMCG or the quick service restaurant model. It’s a different market, or not an urban market. There is a principle of least effort, so when a consumer wants it should be obtained with least effort. We are targeting those who are close to the farmers. Let’s say, those below the taluka (sub-division of a district) or tehsil (township) levels. In India, the average farm holding is low so the inputs you need are really low. It’s not feasible for them to go to the district headquarters.

    What are some of the challenges you have been facing or trying to overcome?

    When I was in the service, from the beginning I had the passion to work with rural people, particularly in rural development and with small marginalized farmers for livelihood. During the service, we continuously organized farmers cooperatives, milk cooperatives and EPO. E-FASAL is a pioneer in this field. Whatever the problems or the hassles that I had experienced during those years, I am now trying to overcome them with the E-FASAL model. So there are primarily four biggest challenges: Firstly, psychological barriers. You have to be tough to fight the day-to-day problems while developing a new model for the market, and it doesn’t end there. So you have to have a tough psychological capacity to handle them. Secondly, family. Because it isn’t an easy life. I can say, it is a 24/7 job. Now that you are living in the virtual world and have access to that world, all the time people are connected with you. So the family is asking why you are doing this. In other words, no time for family. Thirdly, the challenge comes from the market because it is an ongoing business. All things are settled. Dealers, distributors or other systems in the market, or there is already an established system in the market. Once you introduce a new model, and try to remove the problems in the supply chain, those in their comfortable positions begin to oppose your model since they are anxious and or are afraid. So they are another challenge. Finally, every state has its own rules. So there are lots of statutory challenges despite the government of India and the states trying to ease the business and trying to do away with so many unnecessary laws or restrictions or interference from the government.

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