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Saturday, August 8, 2015

India Post to help Farmers sell their Produce Online; Will Add New Revenue Channel

The plan is to deploy postmasters in villages to collate details from farmers on their produce and upload the data online for traders to peruse and make decisions

If you are a farmer looking to sell paddy, cotton, or any other farm produce, take it to the post office.

India's postal department is set to launch a pilot programme that seeks to help farmers sell their produce over the Internet, that too without spending a paisa on transport.

The plan is to deploy postmasters in villages to collate details from farmers on their produce and upload the data online for traders to peruse and make decisions.

India Post, which is taking up the role of a mediator here, will launch the pilot project in two locations in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana over the next couple of weeks, said BV Sudhakar, the chief postmaster general of the circle covering the two Telugu-speaking states.

The initiative is part of India Post's efforts to put its vast network of post offices and employees into use at a time when the advent of emails and proliferation of mobile phones, instant chat apps and express courier services made its core service of delivering letters mostly irrelevant. The department's new areas of interest include financial services and insurance. It is also exploring new-age business opportunities to generate revenue.

Under the new project, postmasters will use smartphones to take photos of the farm commodities and upload the details on a website that will act as a trading platform.

"While it is free for farmers, India Post will collect a nominal fee from the buyers, apart from stipulating a condition that buyers should use the services of India Post for transporting the farm commodity to the required destination," Sudhakar told ET.

Terming it a first of its kind initiative and a win-win for both farmers and traders, Sudhakar said that, based on the results of pilot project, the postal department will decide on extending the service across the country.

An Andhra-based firm, NGIT Systems, has built the trading platform for India Post. The company has experience in developing online platforms for farmers to sell, buy and lease farms, crops, manures, cattle and farming equipment.

The idea of launching an agri-commodity trading platform was arrived at as part of India Post's asset maximisation strategy wherein it plans on improving revenue from its existing human and physical assets, including logistics network, said Sudhakar.

India Post is looking at strengthening its logistics infrastructure connecting various commodity markets in AP and Telangana and between Hyderabad, Chennai and Bengaluru using some 500 trucks, said Sudhakar.

Aimed at encouraging the postmasters in villages to participate in the new initiative and help improve revenue, the department is devising a special incentives package and increasing the fleet size based on demand. The department expects to cover at least a third of these states and is targeting a minimum Rs 10 crore in revenue from agricommodity trading in the first year.

Sudhakar, who took up several innovative schemes in the circle that were later replicated across the country, said he was confident of the circle posting a marginal profit this fiscal year. Effectively using the services of 40,000-plus employees working across 16,155 post offices, the circle improved the average per employee revenue to Rs 3.15 lakh last fiscal year from Rs 2.43 lakh the previous year.