Posted by Dr. Sunil Garg, Guwahati
It was around 10:30 pm on 27th March, the 3rd day of lockdown, when Parag Boruah received a call. The voice on the other side was quite distressed and on the verge of crying. The person asked, “I got to know you are delivering food items at doorsteps. Can you please give us some green vegetables? My son has not eaten anything for the past 2 days.” He added, “Anything would do. Even if it is some leftover green vegetable. I will pay whatever you ask for.”
This voice disturbed us to the core. Here was a well to-do person literally begging for some green vegetable. If this is the situation of those who “have” in society, one could imagine the plight of the “have nots”. That night we decided to do something.
We are a recently launched social venture NEFresh. Our aim is to reduce wastage across fresh food supply chain in North-East India by directly connecting producers to consumers. On 28th February 2020, we started the services of home delivery of fresh food (meat, vegetables and fruits) in Guwahati. We didn’t have much idea on how to serve the huge population of Guwahati city, that too during lockdown. But we were determined to do something.
We approached the district administration. After several meetings, on 2nd April, we finally received the go ahead to assist in home delivery of fresh vegetables. With 10 days gone since the last supply of green vegetables, the situation was worsening. We had to start at the earliest.
We planned logistics, procurement and customer communication. We connected with our farmer-network and asked them how much produce they had. Due to lack of sales and ultra-perishable nature of the items, many had already thrown away a huge part of the produce. The most distressed were the poultry farmers. Their birds were dying as there was no supply of feed due to the lockdown.
Produce becoming waste
The vehicles from the hinterland were quite sceptical of transporting goods. They feared police crackdown. We coordinated with the police of two adjacent districts and sought their help. The next challenge was getting the vegetables delivered to the consumers. Govt. ran a TV advertisement on prominent regional news channels, informing citizens about home delivery of fresh vegetables.
We hired vehicles with containers and loaded vegetable packs designated for a specific area. It was extreme summer with temperature soaring to 400C. As the vehicular movement was allowed only between 7am and 5pm, the delivery persons had to be in the field till late noon. There were no eateries open for snacks or meals. The team started from home quite early (5 am). They could not prepare and carry lunch, as most were staying alone. They somehow managed with biscuits and water.
One of the biggest festival of Assam, Rongali Bihu was celebrated on 14th April. Traditionally, people consume curd, fish and meat on this day. People asked NEFresh to help them with supplies. As NEFresh was unsure about the safety and hygiene of meat, the request was relayed to the Veterinary Department. The department got one of the defunct abattoir operationalised and people started receiving meat. This also reduced the burden of poultry producers as old birds are very difficult to manage.
Bihu celebrations (Representational Images)
People were really happy with the delivery of fresh food to their homes. The team was showered with praises and compliments through e-mails and calls. We were also overwhelmed with the support and patience of our customers.
We delivered more than 15,000 orders during 25 days of our operation in April. We served more than 4000 customers with fresh food supplied by 150 farmers. Though the number may not be very high, we are happy we could serve people in the toughest of times and help farmers earn from their produce.
Post Lockdown 2.0, with easy availability of vegetables, we have returned to our core strength of delivering fresh meat. We look forward to serve more farmers and consumers. We would continue to help every stakeholder in fighting COVID-19, and securing their health and livelihood.
Thank you for your time,
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