Digital Platform for Farmers’ Cooperatives: An Exploration to Minimize Digital Divide and Strengthen Linkages between Farmers and Consumers

Posted December 8, 2021

UNDP Accelerator Lab in Nepal has closely been analyzing the trends and signals of COVID-19 impact in the country. It was observed that series of nationwide lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed by both first and second wave of COVID in Nepal affected the lives and livelihoods of farmers due to the lack of market linkages. This resulted in glutting of agricultural products at surplus areas while price hike in the urban settlements due to lack of market access. The farmers were also compelled to sell their produce at very lower price with minimal or no profit margins and faced severe losses in most of the cases.

Accelerator Lab in Nepal together with the Cooperative Market Development Programme (CMDP), a joint initiative of Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation (MoLCPA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), conducted horizon scanning on the possibilities of introducing digital marketing platform for the farmers’ cooperatives to ensure that farmers get fair share of investment and consumers receive fresh agro-products at a reasonable price. We then conducted few consultations with the cooperatives and cooperative markets which showed their higher level of interest on exploring and testing an e-commerce platform. In partnership with Bidhee Private Limited, one of the software developers, we converted our concept into reality and, hence, we are currently testing KrishiCoopBazaar.com, where KrishiCoopBazaar means “Agricultural Cooperative Market”.

The main objective of this platform, both available in web and mobile applications, is to link the farmers’ cooperative markets directly with the consumers so that it can safeguard the livelihoods of the farmers by directly supplying fresh fruits, vegetables and other agro-based commodities to the consumers. The other aspect to this exploration is in bringing the farmers’ cooperatives in the realm of ecommerce sector so that they can have better digital connection for larger outreach.

At present, the platform is undergoing testing for two of the seven cooperative markets under CMDP and will be scaled up after analyzing the test results. We have gathered few learnings and insights from for the last four months and probably will be learning more in the days to come.

1.       Involving cooperative markets in the designing phase: From the very beginning of the concept development and designing of the digital platform, we made sure that we involved representatives from farmers’ cooperatives so that we could address their needs and demand. We kept room for modifications and recommendations as and when required. This gave us an opportunity to cater the diverse ideas and opinions of the local markets.

2.       Weekly update meetings to ensure all details are captured: The weekly update meetings helped us to track our progress and discuss areas of improvements as a team. All the partners and members from cooperative markets were given a space to freely express their opinions, doubts and concerns throughout the process from exploration to designing to testing phase. The perseverance of the team had always invigorated the mission of developing a user- and cooperative- friendly website and mobile application. 

3.       Coordination with the Government Body: Since CMDP is a joint project of UNDP and the Government of Nepal, it is one of the model projects fully owned by the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation (MoLCPA). The Ministry was involved since the beginning of the horizon scanning process. The fervent role and insights of the ministry to finalize every single detail from naming the digital platform to logo selection to website layout/ design and constructive feedback throughout the process were remarkable. This motivated the task-force team and the members of the cooperative markets on developing the system within a short time span of three months.

4.      Orientations on the back end of the system: Since the members of the cooperative markets required better understanding on digital platforms, we provided them with series of orientations, both virtually and physically. The objectives of these sessions were to simplify the system to make it more user friendly, adapt their needs, develop their core understanding towards the system and at the same time enhance their technical capacity so that they can at least analyze and visualize the results at the basic level. We anticipate that these sessions will later help them guide towards future operation of the digital platform.

5.       Multiple tests to check bugs in the system: We have experienced bugs in the system during our initial tests and hence we are conducting several rounds of tests along with version modifications both in the web and mobile applications. We have been involving few of the users from the cooperatives and consumers groups for these multiple tests.

6.      Consumer-Centric system: E-commerce platforms are all about the end consumers. To ensure that the cooperative markets could attract more consumers, we have designed a simple User Interface with different modes of payment, including pick-up point orders at the market itself. We have also introduced membership points and voucher earning facilities to retain the loyal consumers in the future.

The beta version of the KrishiCoopBazaar.com has been launched and the instruction manual prescribing detail process and steps has been handed over to CMDP and Chabahil Cooperative Market for final testing and validation. The cooperative markets are excited to roll out the digital platform once the tests are successful. Once rolled out, the platform is expected to extend the service area of cooperatives, promote local production and reduce the number of agro-imports.

UNDP Accelerator Lab in Nepal is working closely with development partners, the private sectors and grassroot innovators as a “vehicle” to test innovative solutions around unplanned urbanization and unemployment. It is on a quest to invest technical expertise on these two frontier issues in order to map, and explore a portfolio of experiments to foresee more possibilities.