Horticulturists are incurring huge losses, with the lockdown forcing the closure of several mandis and disrupting transport to functioning markets. According to a research report by Credit Suisse, “With the rabi harvest season now in full swing, market arrivals should have be picking up for crops such as wheat, pulses, and summer fruits like mangoes. However, despite anecdotal evidence of a bumper harvest, market arrivals are down 50-95 per cent compared to year-ago levels.”
Neelkanth Mishra, Research Analyst, Credit Suisse said, “Only a fraction of the nearly 7,000 wholesale markets in India are reportedly functioning. For non-perishable output like wheat and pulses there are options but for perishables like vegetables and fruits, this disruption means lower incomes for farmers (nowhere to sell: some feeding spinach to cows), even as consumers face scarcity.”
The issues at many mandis especially those handling vegetables are real. Dewan Singh, who had grown cucumber in Islampur village neat Agra, said, “Transporting the produce to the local Basai Sabzi Mandi is one part of the problem but the bigger issue is getting labour for harvesting the produce. The situation is so bad that I have now decided to let it rot in the fields.”
Many farmers are uprooting vegetables that they feel will not be able to sell.
Grapes in Nasik and nearby areas are drying up and farmers are being forced to convert them into raisins.
As of now some states are allowing direct purchases from farmers. Asserting that the current developments should be used to reform the sector, Mishra said, “If these last beyond the virus-driven lockdown, they could end up dismantling the monopoly of APMCs that many have blamed for inefficiency. It may be too early to take a call on that.” He maintained that market dysfunction could hurt both farmers and consumers.
Many farmers are uprooting vegetables that they feel will not be able to sell. | Photo: Ishita Ayan Dutt
The ripples in vegetable and fruit mandis have already been noticed by agro-business experts such as Vijay Sardana, who said, “It is time to have an alternate mechanism for farmers to sell their produce. While APMCs may continue functioning, direct buying from farmers should also be promoted.”
The Centre has already asked states to notify warehouses as market yards and allow even commodity processors to buy directly from farmers without licences. P Chengal Reddy, advisor to the Consortium of Indian Farmers Associations (CIFA) said that just as it has done for food grains, the government needs to arrange railway wagons for loading at all important fruit producing centres across the main producing states.
He added that the current labour shortage could get extended to the coming Khari sowing season, as migrant workers will not return in the absence of guaranteed work.
The sale, distribution and transporation of perishable commodities have taken a big blow during the lockdown despite all relaxation, and could have a big cascading impact on farm incomes.
Rabi harvest of most grains and pulses is either underway or done with in some parts, such as Madhya Pradesh. Farmer leaders say a big problem due to lockdown is the absolute absence of ready cash, which could crimp their purchases of seeds and fertilisers for summer-sown (zaid) crops and might even extend to the next kharif sowing season that starts from June.
“One big fallout of the extended mandi closure and slow sale of harvested produce is that farmers currently are facing acute shortage of ready cash in hand,” said Bhagwan Meena, a farmer leader from Madhya Pradesh.
He said even before mandis closed due to lockdown, prices of several early-rabi harvested crops such as chana and mustard in Madhya Pradesh were 20-30 per cent lower than MSP. “Now if arrivals jump after mandis are opened, prices will naturally crash as the farmer will now look to somehow sell off his produce,” Meena said.
Vashi APMC impacted
A coronavirus case in one of the segments of Vashi APMC, which is represented by many fruit and Vegetable trader associations in Mumbai, Turbhe and nearby areas, has taken a toll on its functioning. The Vashi-based Mumbai Agriculture Produce Committee has declared, “There are several hotspots in Mumbai following the spread of the virus. From April 11 till further notice, vegetables, fruits and the onion-potato segment of the market will remain closed.”