The new normal: From producer to consumer
About a couple of weeks ago, I received a beautiful letter from one of my readers. I do not receive many, and if I do, it is usually for research matters, asking me further information on a particular topic. The letter was full of concerns about the entire missing direct link between the producer and the consumer, and thoughts on how the intermediates can be eliminated in order to create a more beneficial and sustainable market for both the producer and the end-consumer.
The writer of the letter, together with his partner, both graduates of the same university as mine, was initiating a new platform aiming to create this missing link without charging any commission from both sides. They named their platform Komşu Bostan, which translates as The Neighboring Garden, or orchard, or vegetable garden. Apparently, what they mean is not the vegetable patch closest to you, but even a distant producer can become very close with the provided direct link. Although there are such collectives that lead consumer supported producer systems, many remain to be closed groups with limited access to the general public. Needless to say, with COVID-19, e-commerce boomed, but the hidden fact that many of the e-commerce sites charge a hefty commission, this proves to be a burden for many small producers and cooperatives.
I remember saying to myself, “This is too good to be true!” and replied for asking more information, shyly asking if he could write a small information note in English for convenience, in order to take a few quotes from them. When the note came, I felt like taking the whole lot as a quote, so here I leave the floor to them:
“The corona outbreak challenged the dominant perception of the ‘normal’ and left us with the ‘new normal’ thanks to the implementation of the work-from-home policies, the advancement of the digitalization, and the advent of the social distancing. These unprecedented times forced people to change their shopping habits. As a result, online grocery shopping, once a taboo for many in Turkey, started to become mainstream. Many white-collars in big cities of Turkey have adapted to the philosophy of the online grocery shopping long before the corona outbreak, while many traditional families preferred shopping at the actual store. Well, not much anymore. The increasing consumer interaction with the e-commerce websites and mobile apps urged mothers, fathers, white-collars, blue-collars, in short everyone irrespective of his/her position, age, gender.
On the other side of the equilibrium, producers acknowledged the necessity of the digitalization to maintain their existing customer portfolio and to reach out to many more in the various cities. While the equilibrium is not that hard to solve, an inherent problem exists on the producer side. Long before the digitalization, the role of the intermediaries in the supply side of the food chain has been discussed. The decades-long problem starts with a simple question: ‘How come 1 kg of vegetable produced at 1.5 Turkish Liras at the farm is sold at 6 liras in the market?’ Intermediaries were always there to blame. With the advent of the new normal, no one needs to be blamed. On the contrary, those pursuing new methods to solve the tricky side of the equilibrium should be appraised. There are substantial opportunities for innovative ideas to connect producers with consumers without any intermediaries.
Komsubostan.com is a newly established online platform, which creates an alternative to intermediaries in the supply chain of the agricultural products and connects producers directly with the consumers. Launched on May 14, 2020 — the World Farmer’s Day — Komsubostan.com offers an online venue where producers are introduced to the new customers and consumers are met with local producers. To be clear, Komsubostan.com does not get involved in the sales of the products. Through Komsubostan.com producer profiles, producers are directly linked with the consumers. The contact details of the producers [phone number, address, web site, Instagram], the production method[s] [organic, good agricultural practices, etc.], and the shipping preferences of the producers are shown on the producer profiles. In addition to the producer profiles, producers are also encouraged to promote one of their distinct products at the ‘Komsudan Sana’ [From the Neighbor] page. In the whole process, no fees or commissions are involved.”
Komşu Bostan has five founding principles: Elimination of the intermediaries, service without commission, sustainability and rural development, focus on technology, and inclusion.
They offer more than 100 sub-categories including, fruits, vegetables, artisanal produce, apiculture products, horticultural specialties, and livestock products. The producers’ listing on the platform was started only last month reaching more than 50 producers in 30 sub-categories.
So how will it work, how will they be sure of the quality of the product put on the platform?
This was my first concern, as it is a common fact that adulteration can be a huge problem in Turkey. Their intend is to rely on consumer comments and ratings to assess the reliability of a producer. When a producer receives unpleasant comments and low rankings persistently, the listing of that producer will be immediately suspended. “We are not able to meet with all the producers in person, so we rely on the assessments of our consumer neighbors,” note the founders.
Last but not least, the platform will give priority to women’s initiatives. The founding team has its roots in farmer families of Yazar and Bilici, with half of the team consisting of women. With the distinctive touch of the women, the platform already started to focus on rural development and the empowerment of the women in agricultural production. Most of the producers listed on Komsubostan.com are women farmers, women-led small businesses, and women cooperatives. The founders also plan to form solidarity groups in different cities to educate women to produce more efficiently and align them with the advancements in technology.
So far, so good! With the driving force of women, the future seems to be bright for the whole team, they will hopefully succeed, and here is my thanking them for such a heartfelt sweet letter with such good intentions!