Tuesday, March 16, 2010


The woes of growers in India are well known and no wonder more and more of this breed are finding life miserable due to poor returns from their avocation. Small land holdings, difficulty to access easy source of short term finance, uncertainties of weather, poor infrastructure, wide spread operation of middlemen who deny reasonable prices for the crops all contribute to the miseries of the farmer. While durable foods like cereals have Minimum Support Price (MSP) scheme of the government, guaranteeing reasonable returns for their crops, the perishables suffer from seasonal price fluctuations and demand-supply uncertainties which cannot be surmounted unless low temperature storage and transport facilities are available at affordable cost. The fear of perishability and glut in production invariably have a price depressing effect making cultivation of these foods a "professional hazard". To add to these difficulties, there is no insurance scheme that will compensate for crop loss due to circumstances beyond the control of the farming community.

The Fruit and Vegetable project taken up by National Dairy Development Board, Anand in the mid-1980's addressed the problems of the growers by establishing cooperative societies in growing areas and processing facilities combined with selling net works in urban areas like New Delhi. Unfortunately the project has not been able to achieve any spectacular success similar to the milk project which made India the top producer of this vital food in the world. In Karnataka itself, Horticultural Producers' Cooperative (HOPCOMS) did commendable job by linking producers directly with the consumer but has not been able to make any significant impact in the market. Organized retailing players owning huge sales outlets in major metropolitan areas did raise hope that their economic and organizational clout would benefit both growers and the consumers by eliminating middle men. But the results so far have belied that hope.

Weekly shandies organized in different rural areas are serving the purpose of providing an opportunity to village folks around the area to expose their products including fresh foods to buyers hailing from nearby settlements at very reasonable prices. These shandies serve a very useful purpose in that both consumers and farmers are mutually benefited. What puts off the buyers, how ever, is the unorganized, dusty, unclean and poor facilities and many potential customers do not opt for such an adventure fearing about diseases and allergies. With no facilities for drinking water or toileting or even for resting for some time without being exposed to the Sun, senior citizens and elderly customers do not consider such places worth visiting, denying them the benefits of buying fresh fruits and vegetables at bargain prices. Added to this the transportation facility to such shandies is very limited.

In Mysore growers of fruits, vegetables and similar fresh food materials gather every day on the side of a half kilometer stretch of a road offering their wares in bargain prices and more than hundred such farmer-vendors participate in this "unofficial' market to cater to the needs of thousands of buyers who regularly congregate at this point to get their daily needs of fresh foods. Same logistical problems that face the rural weekly shandies are experienced here also, with no civic authority officials bothered about such gross neglect. Thanks to some sudden awakening amongst the babus who control the destiny of people in a city like Mysore with two plus million population, a grandiose plan has just been announced for establishing a permanent Farmers' Market (Raitha Santhe) in a nearby vacant place with modern facilities.

According to the plan made public recently, there will be 400 sheltered "stalls" for allotting to genuine farmers for a season so that he can bring his produce directly to the market without the help of any "commission agent" and get maximum price. The proposed Market is expected to have decent civic amenities including parking area for modern day consumers to enjoy the experience of buying "straight" from the farmer at reasonable prices. Major difference between this type of market and the traditional markets is that the latter is controlled by middle men, harvest contractors, "muscle" people etc with high speculative and money power. Even if the produce is perishable the sellers in to day's market system do not reduce prices, not bothered about the wastage at the end of the day. The cold storage facilities are also used by these middlemen to hoard some less perishable produce to manipulate the market prices. Hopefully such things will not happen in the new facility to be built exclusively for farmers. Long live the newly evolving "farmer-consumer" bhai bhai relationship!


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