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Farm to mkt,Moily Jr. builds direct route

His Bangalore retail chain will be tagged with ‘food miles’.

Written by Saritha Rai | Bangalore | Published: July 3, 2012 2:40:58 am

In a first-of-its-kind organised retail endeavour connecting vegetable,fruit and milk farmers from the remotest Karnataka villages directly to the food plate of affluent Bangalore residents,two brands—a retail chain called The Good Chain and a milk brand called Milk Route—will debut in the city in the coming weeks.

Behind these modern-sounding labels is Harsha Moily,the US-educated son of Union Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily whose MokshaYug Access (MYA) aims to make the rural poor actively participate in India’s economic growth story. Among MYA’s backers are the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Khosla Ventures of Vinod Khosla and the multinational Unitus Capital that supports bottom-of-the-pyramid social enterprises.

The first Good Chain store will launch in JP Nagar in south Bangalore in about a month,followed by three more in other neighborhoods. “Every produce in the store will come with a story. where it was sourced from and what is that farmer’s tale,” said Moily.

The chain is loosely modelled after Whole Foods,the world’s largest retailer of organic and natural foods,though its produce will only be part-organic. Prices will be higher than at regular supermarket chains. For the first time in India,produce will be tagged with the ‘food miles’ it has travelled from the farmer to the city. Fruits,vegetables and eggs will be time-stamped to record freshness.

The chain will follow principles of Fair Trade,an organised social movement that honors producers,consumers,the community and the environment. “By ensuring traceability of every produce,we will create awareness about the rural farmer at urban India’s dinner table,” says Moily.

In-store displays next to the produce will detail each supplier’s story. By eliminating middlemen,Moily aims to deliver maximum returns to the farmer. Milk Route will retail at various supermarket chains while The Good Chain will augment its retailing effort by supplying to restaurants and caterers. As a pilot,ten electric pushcarts operated by women will hawk its branded produce around the city in the next few months.

Harsha Moily’s story is even more unusual considering that as the only son of a former chief minister and Union minister,politics should have been a natural progression. According to author Patrick French,over two-third of MPs under 40 in the current Lok Sabha have inherited their seats. Moily completed his MBA in the United States,and worked in venture capital and private equity for a dozen years before returning to India.

He set up MYA with $2 million seed capital from family and friends in 2006. He first built a rural milk supply chain by engaging with thousands of dairy farmers,providing them with cattle feed and cattle loans,before expanding his focus to retail. Very few retail chains in India,if any,engage directly with farmers.

Moily,who is 40 and single,says he would rather build something on his own terms than get a straight ticket into politics. “I always saw myself at the centre of a for-profit but strongly oriented towards impacting rural income levels,” he said,adding,“Mine is not a regular,commercially oriented business.”

MYA currently has 180 employees and a turnover of Rs 80 crore. Moily says his childhood dream was to be a cricket commentator but he does not completely rule out entry into politics. After all,with his company he has a direct line to the rural masses. In rural India,one in four households is involved in dairy farming.”Politics is the highest calling and if I do plunge in,I will do so on merit after I have achieved something,” says Moily and adds,“Maybe I’m not thick-skinned enough.”

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