“If you agree with neighbors to buy four or five baskets of apples, instead of each just buying one, costs are going to diminish. And if additionally, you buy directly from farmers, eliminating the intermediaries, both you and the farmer obtain benefits,” explained Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Organization Management Research Group Director Erick Daniel Cárdenas
This is a win-win situation where the researcher proposes with Toc Toc, a company which he is co-founder and designer. Through a webpage, the company sells, for now, 32 foods from tubercles, fruits, and vegetables produced by 72 farmers of Asoprocota, a farmer association founded seven years ago in the municipality of Cota (Province Cundinamarca).
Last year, Toc Toc obtained the first place in the Democratizing Innovation in the Americas Program in Colombia implemented by Trust for The Americas, among other organizations, with support from the Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications. “We have already delivered 100 orders and for the end of the year we hope to reach 1000 orders a month,” said the CEO of Toc Toc, and UNal-Bogotá Business Administration masters candidate Leonardo Herrera.
Researchers Cárdenas and Herrera claim that this is the first thing that differentiates their company from a digital startup company such as Comproagro –which also sells farmer products directly through the web– is promoting communitarian purchases to produce greater earnings for farmers, reduce product prices and facilitate transportation.
The researchers came to an agreement with the Office of the Mayor of Cota to carry out workshops in residential areas and farmers markets of the municipality. In each workshop, a chef shows organic foods offered on the website and helps them prepare traditional recipes using these articles. At the end, they speak of the benefits of buying foods in groups and doing it through Toc Toc.
To reach the web portal they actually went through three preliminary versions and they are on the verge of launching a new updated version. The entrepreneurs use complex algorithms for the web platform, which allows them to protect customer data for electronic payments and update information on prices and real-time availability.
The webpage indicates unit prices or weight of each food, the current buying community price and the savings achieved. According to the webpage, the prices for squash in a communitarian but are 46% less than in a conventional market, while the price for celery is 35% less, just to name a few examples. Average savings when buying in a group through the tool range between 15 and 25% according to the product, compared to an individual sale.
Eduardo Mestra and other farmers of Asoprocota are working to bring in more partners and request spaces to carry out farmers markets. The main goal is to sell organic foods directly to consumers. They understand that together they will be heard by the government and have access to better public policies.
Mestra says that when cooperating they can offer a greater variety of products and coordinate what the crop of each product to avoid losses. For instance, a farmer says that a neighbor would crop her whole patch of land of approximately 1.000 square meters and lost half of her production, obtaining earning of about COL $200.000 (US $69) a month. Today she earns close to COL $600.000 (US $300) a month, as partner of the organization.
In a search for more alternatives, Asoprocota decided to partner with Toc Toc. According to Cárdenas, their company supports associations through research and increasing demand. “We are on the verge of launching a food platform for associations of the municipality of Madrid (Province of Cundinamarca) and on the short term we also want to include the Province of Valle del Cauca. Increasing demand for the associations, we lead them to connect with more farmers and extend their offer,” he said.
According to the last Colombian Agricultural and Livestock Census carried out by National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE, for its Spanish acronym), 73.7% of the farmers do not belong to any production association and only 6.8% are part of an organization of this sort. “Many country folk do not want to associate for fear of being robbed or cheated,” regrets Mestra.
To approach these situations, Herrera is working on his master degree thesis also with the research group to establish the elements that produce low associativity rates in the Colombian countryside. The first stage consists of performing a literature review around the theory of collective action, which is about the motivations which lead groups of society to cooperate. “One of the issues we have discovered is individualism. Proper interests are not integrated to those of the common. His produces a large gap, which if not breached, will make rural Colombian cooperation impossible,” he said.
Once identified the factors, the researcher will determine which are present in the associations which have formed alliances through Toc Toc. For this, they will carry out a series of interviews and analyses which results will be submitted to peasant organizations, so they can approach the issues discovered during the research.
“We want to be a startup with great success in the area of technologies applied to agriculture,” claims Herrera. He will strive to continue working to congregate communities around consumption and food production, getting them close to market circuits which have historically have been out of reach.
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