Agriculture expert hails e-retail of farm produce

70 tonnes of vegetables from farms were delivered to homes nationwide, and fresh food has now become one of the top three categories on Lazada Malaysia.

PETALING JAYA: An expert in agriculture has hailed the role of online retailers like Lazada in accelerating the agriculture supply chain’s shift to digital marketing.

Speaking to FMT, Tey Yeong Sheng of Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Institute of Agricultural and Food Policy Studies noted that the transition moved at its fastest ever pace after the movement control order (MCO) was imposed.

Lazada opened a virtual store connecting farmers to housebound Malaysians with the onset of the restrictions.

In three weeks, about 70 tonnes of vegetables from Cameron Highlands farms were delivered to homes nationwide, and fresh food has now become one of the top three categories on Lazada Malaysia.

Tey Yeong Sheng

“E-retailers like Lazada facilitated this transition in a matter of days to provide a digital retail outlet,” Tey pointed out.

He noted that the the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (Fama) had been trying to do this for years but had been unsuccessful.

But he said Fama, which has been a last resort buyer of unsold produce, still had a role to play in digital marketing.

“In the agriculture sector, you need scale. We have 700,000 to 800,000 farmers. Lazada alone cannot cater to all of these. This is where healthy competition from Fama and other platforms come in.”

Fama and other agencies do have online platforms like Agrobazaar Online, linking farmers directly to buyers, but Lazada has a higher profile.

“We can see that Fama is playing a more proactive role and it should continue to do this since it knows the prices and the farmers,” Tey said.

But he also spoke of challenges such as the need to ensure the freshness of produce and efficiency of delivery once customers’ movements are no longer restricted.

“When many are working from home, accepting deliveries is not a problem, but this might be more challenging once working adults return to the office. How do they keep their produce? How do the farmers and logistics companies ensure the produce remain fresh?”

He also said consumers, over time, would want to see transparency in agricultural production practices. Online platforms and farmers would need to ensure, among other things, food safety and nutritional values as well as transparent grading, pricing and certification, he added.

Economist Barjoyai Bardai of Universiti Tun Abdul Razak said farmers could make better profits through digital marketing because traditional middlemen would no longer have a role.

Barjoyai Bardai

“This may have started with vegetables, but it can be replicated with other produce, poultry, meat, eggs and even fish,” he said.

“But I feel there is a need for more players to ensure competition and wider options for farmers and consumers.”

He suggested that the various farmer associations set up their own platforms.

With the private sector able to provide the marketplaces, he said, the government should take a step back and focus on regulations and policies.

“This is a proper market solution and we should let the market operate freely,” he added.

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