In a bid to feed the growing demand for organic produce among families in the UAE, enthusiasts are working tirelessly to establish initiatives to get their fruits and vegetables from sources other than the supermarkets.
Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of consuming ethically-farmed produce, and are not depending on mainstream retailers to provide them with the same.
Two independent initiatives – FarmChimp and Naturebeatz – began as small, online projects that sell only rice, wild honey, and a small bag of vegetables to a group of friends a few years ago. However, these projects have now grown into successful e-commerce SMEs driven by social media, providing to nearly 7,000 families living in the UAE.
Founded by a husband-wife duo, PC Kabeer and Semy Kabeer, FarmChimp started with selling 250kg of rice from Kerala to 30 customers through word-of-mouth two and half years ago. The SME was officially launched on January 28 with support from their local sponsor Mohammed Murad.
Growing awareness for ethically-sourced products
Kabeer and Semy have now set up a retail outlet in Karama and have a website than sells nearly 200 products to 3,000 families in Dubai. Today, the store sells rice, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, fruits, cucumbers, jaggery, virgin coconut oil, snacks, milk, ghee, eggs, and several other perishable products.
FarmChimp was awarded the ‘Startup of the Year’ at the Etisalat SMB Awards 2018 held on Tuesday. The products are priced anything between Dh12 to Dh25. A 250g bottle of wild honey, grown by the Adivasi community in Attapadi, Kerala, for example, is sold at Dh25.
Apart from selling products that have been grown using the best agriculture practices, FarmChimp connects consumers directly to the farmers using an in-store mobile application.
The couple said their business has been able to grow thanks to growing awareness among consumers. “We purchase products from farmers at a fair price. There is no bargaining, and sometimes it is sold above market price,” explained Semy Kabeer.
From the farm to the table
“We started as an e-commerce platform with rice and wild honey. When we launched the shop, we had ten products, and we were working with one farmer,” explained Kabeer.
Today, the SME works with 80 farmers in India and three farmers in the UAE. The farmers in India sell them over 180 products. “The farmers in the UAE sell us 30 products including eggs, milk, yoghurt strawberries, cucumber, sugarcane, capsicum, tomatoes, and several green leafy vegetables.”
FarmChimp is now looking to work with farmers in Lebanon and Jordan and is continuously trying to reach out to other farmers in the region. Products ordered on the e-commerce platform can be paid for in cash upon delivery, and according to regular consumers of FarmChimp, there is a vast difference in the quality of the produce.
“All produce has been grown using sustainable and ethical farming practices. Each of our products has a QR code on the package information. Upon scanning the video, users can view a video message from the farmer explaining his agricultural practices. Pesticides and fertilisers (dried cow dung) are 100 per cent pure, and do not contain any chemicals.”
Growing in popularity
Delivery of fruits and vegetables happen as per pre-orders. “Delivery to homes in Dubai happens every day. In Sharjah, the products are delivered two to three times a week, depending on the intensity of the orders. Deliveries need to be over Dh50,” explained Kabeer.
The packaging of the products takes place in Palakkad, Kerala, in a facility that employs a majority group of women. “Once a farmer registers with us, we run a few scheduled and surprise inspection to check if they match with our standards. If it does, we start procuring from them,” added Sameer Puthile Karath, a member who handles Dubai operations for FarmChimp. “Several farmers have also been referred to us,” said Karath.
Vegetables and packaged snack foods are imported by air every Thursday and shipment of rice and other products with longer shelf life are imported once a month. Users of the Farm Chimp products say that there is an evident difference is the taste and quality of products.
Manjula Hari, a Sharjah resident who purchased jaggery powder and banana chips from the shop, said, “It tastes amazing, and since I know exactly where the product is coming from, I feel safe knowing there are no chemicals or pesticides that have been used,” she said.