Jitendra Singh, CIO, JK Cement Ltd, and CIO Power List 2017 winner, discusses design, development and implementation of an online agricultural marketplace for the Indian government.
A firm believer that technology is the biggest driver of innovation, Jitendra Singh is keen to harness its power for transformation in the business and public domain. As the CIO at JK Cement Ltd he’s responsible for drafting the company’s digital strategy and leading process automation projects that are process and energy efficiency at their core. His notable work in the field was recognised at CIO Power List 2017, where he was felicitated as a Manufacturing Icon. Here he talks to us about leading a government-backed digital transformation project called e-National Agriculture Market (eNAM), a countrywide online marketplace for agricultural produce.
The need for an online marketplace
“There are 6,500+ primary and secondary marketplaces spread across India for farmers to sell their agricultural produce (perishable and non-perishable). Most states have some sort of a governance model (by-laws) to regulate these marketplaces. However, the options for sellers, ie the farmers, are often limited when it comes to the price of the commodity, qualitative valuation, holding capacity (especially in the case of perishables), and, finally, their ability to reach other marketplaces as they’re usually constrained to sell at the one that’s closest to their farm or home. To add to these, the biggest limitation is the visibility on the price being commanded for the product in other marketplaces.”
“To help farmers overcome these different limitations, the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, decided to start an online platform that would facilitate the sale of agricultural produce across the country. This benefits farmers as well as traders. The online portal is called eNAM (e-National Agriculture Market). It is a virtual marketplace, termed as the Mandi of Mandis, that is accessible to registered farmers and traders. This project has actually disrupted the age-old way of conducting business at Mandis. It’s a game changer in increasing farmers’ income, coupled with a long-term impact on consumer price.
“Depending on the governing by-laws of a particular marketplace the portal has the option to conduct an open auction or a closed tendering process. There’s an online ticker that helps all stakeholders observe, analyse, and take action as per their requirements. Thanks to its mobile-enabled interface, farmers and traders can conduct their business from anywhere, but not any time as the auction and tender processes are time-bound. Currently, it’s an open source, responsive mobility platform, but will evolve into a native mobile app.
“The portal went live in 2016, and so far close to one lakh farmers have already registered themselves and Rs 10,000 crore of business has been conducted on the portal. The total documented revenue handled in the traditional marketplaces is estimated at Rs 6 lakh crore per year, and the government envisages this to be routed through eNAM over the coming years. Using eNAM the government can track price trends, as well as regulate and record transactions taking place in the various online marketplaces. The portal is also used as a tool to automate the various activities undertaken by governing body-appointed officials for each marketplace.
“In time eNAM will also help end-consumers get an appropriate price for agricultural produce. The huge differential in product pricing we see today is due to the monopolistic practices undertaken. But this will be eliminated in the years to come thanks to this online marketplace that is being regulated by the government.”
“The biggest and most critical challenge faced was to make farmers and traders understand the benefits of eNAM and encourage all of them to register and conduct their business online. For this we had to provide adequate training on using the platform. We also learnt that a project with this scale and magnitude needs a different mind-set and plan. A run of the mill approach wouldn’t work. So we had to keep innovating.”
Photograph (background): Sarath Kuchi/Flickr