Veg entrepreneurs build a lockdown lifeline

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Lockdown can hit families hard, both in cities and the countryside. India provides a continuing example. But restrictions don’t need to stop smallholders from earning money with healthy food. Two entrepreneurs provide a great example – with some help from organizations like ours.

The new wave of Covid-19 has ravaged India. The number of infections and deaths has shot up in many parts of the country. Health facilities struggle to keep up. Central and State governments have again restricted the movement of people and ordered the closing of non-essential shops.  

In the state of Manipur, for example, most major markets quickly shut. The movement of goods was limited to essentials. So how would vegetables still get to the residents of Imphal, the state capital? Veg-in-a-Basket (ViB) had an answer. This young agribusiness connects rural farmers with urban consumers. Established under more normal circumstances, ViB rose to the Covid challenge as well. After the new restrictions started, the company delivered more bags of farm-fresh vegetables. These quickly reached some 2000 Imphal citizens in 400 households.

ViB was incubated by the MaolKeki Foundation (MKF), a local philanthropic organization, in 2019. MKF knew from its partner farmers that lack of market access was a major challenge. While piloting ViB, the founders Surjeet Luwangcha and Rajina Potsangbam went on a 21-day Agri-Entrepreneurship training organized by AEGF. This organization is a joint venture between Syngenta Foundation India and the Tata Trusts. “After the training, Luwangcha and Rajina Potsangbam started delivering fresh vegetables twice a week to urban consumers”, explains the Syngenta Foundation’s Parikrama Chowdhry. “With Covid, this became a daily service.”

ViB benefited from MKF’s and the Anaha Trust’s aim to develop the fresh vegetable value chain in Manipur. “Scale-up funding from Anaha helped ViB reach out to trusted vegetable farmers in nearby Bishnupur District”, comments Parikrama. “Fortunately, when Covid hit again, things moved fast because the business was already operational. ViB and the Bishnupur smallholders were quickly able to meet the increasing number of orders.”  

With this initiative, ViB solves several problems at once. Smallholders earn good incomes for their hard work, with reliable prices for their produce. City inhabitants get healthy food and can even trace it back easily to the farmers. “We’ll soon know more about the income details”, says Parikrama. “But at present, it’s arguably peace of mind that matters most. Volumes are still small, but for these smallholders, the ViB orders became their only guaranteed market during the lockdown. This entrepreneurial solution is a great relief to them all.”