Almost a week since the Vashi Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) near Mumbai re-started operations, vegetable arrivals have increased steadily. Buyers, however, aren't purchasing as much as they used to prior to the maintenance shutdown of the mandi.
Consequently, farmers are being forced to sell their produce below the cost of cultivation or with a marginal profit either through middlemen (arhatiyas) or by selling directly to bulk and retail purchasers. After a week of maintenance shutdown, the vegetable section of APMC Mumbai started on Monday with the arrival of 93 vehicles as against permission to 150 vehicles. The total number of vehicles carrying vegetables was 136 on Thursday and was almost the same on Friday.
Despite the steady increase in vehicle arrivals, vegetables prices remained almost stagnant with marginal variations seen in a few, depending upon the seasonality. The reason is that farmers have come together to get rid of the middlemen (arhatiyas) and form their own group to supply produce to consumers directly and take getter a substantially better price.
“The coronavirus spread has prompted farmers to form their own supplier group and negotiate prices directly with bulk consumers. Earlier they used to sell only through their middlemen (arhatiyas). Since the Covid-19 pandemic started spreading, farmers have started approaching housing societies and bulk consumers directly in major consumption centres, in a bid to supply directly from farm to kitchen. This is one reasom buyers are not coming to mandis. It looks like buyers are maintaining mandi distancing,” said Sriram Gadhave, President, Vegetable Growers Association of India (VGAI), a Pune-based representative body of vegetable farmers.
Absence of buyers, meanwhile, reflected on vegetables’ prices. Most vegetables, barring a couple unseasonal ones, either remained steady or moved marginally down in the last four days of re-start of the APMC. Pointed gourd (padwal), for example, prices declined marginally to trade on Friday at Rs 22 a kg in APMC Vashi as against its median price of Rs 23 on Monday. Cauliflower prices, however, remained unchanged at Rs 13 a kg in the wholesale Vashi APMC mandi. All these vegetables are currently selling at 20 below their cost of cultivation.
Vegetables like lady’s finger (bhindi) moved up to trade at Rs 31 a kg on Friday as against Rs 28 a kg on Monday despite increase in its arrival from 4.1 tonnes to 7.8 tonnes during the week.
The scenario is no different in Azadpur mandi near Delhi. Despite increase in supply from all across major growing states including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan among others, weak demand pulled down vegetable prices. Farmers are forced to sell tomato at Rs 1-1.50 a kg and onion at Rs 7-8 a kg.
“There is no demand of vegetables in mandis. Earlier, farmers were depending upon the middlemen to sell their produces. But, now they are selling to consumers directly,” said Sunil Singatkar, Director, APMC Vashi.
Meanwhile, weak vegetables prices have come as a double whammy for farmers. At the time of maturing the crop, nationwide lockdown and thereupon unavailability of workers hit their harvesting. A number of farmers left their huge quantity of matured vegetables rotting in the field. Then, mandi closure followed due to nationwide lockdown which forced farmers to sit on the inventory and wait for its spoilage. Intermittent showers added to their woos.
“Now, truck drivers are not willing to travel to cities like Mumbai and Pune due to the 14-day quarantine fear by the local administration on their return. Sustained increase in Covid-19 cases in both Mumbai and Pune has put entire vegetable farming in doldrums. While we are managing sales somehow this year, many farmers would not like to cultivate vegetables next season,” said Swapnil Pawar, a Pune based farmer.
APMC Vashi has adopted various measures to reduce footfalls into its premise to avoid crowding and maintain social distancing after a week of complete shutdown for sanitizing and health check up of market participants last week.