Farmers’ Market is a popular concept in Europe in which the farmers who produce food could directly market to the consumers. The objective of the farmers’ market is that the farmer who produces food should be able to fix the price of their produce. It eliminates middlemen interference and connects farmers with the customers directly.
Taking this cue, some states in India have introduced farmers’ markets. Former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi should be credited for introducing Uzhavar Santhai in Tamil Nadu. Launched in 1999, the farmers’ markets in Tamil Nadu have come a long way and have seen many ups and downs. It is our collective responsibility to strengthen this novel scheme by eliminating the shortfalls and making it thrive.
Under the farmers market scheme, farmers are allotted a place to sell crops (vegetables) they have cultivated. They are allotted shops in the market and they are also provided with weights and scales. They could come anytime to sell their crops and the government does not charge anything from them. It is worth mentioning that the government introduced special buses to farmers’ markets. To promote the scheme, the farmers were allowed to transport vegetables in government buses without a luggage fee.
It is worth mentioning that the government introduced special buses to farmers’ markets. To promote the scheme, the farmers were allowed to transport vegetables in government buses without a luggage fee.
Though conceptualized to sell anything the farmers cultivate; farmers markets in Tamil Nadu today deal mostly with vegetables. They start functioning early morning and are open until late evening. Farmers don’t have to stay the entire day if they manage to sell off their vegetables.
In conventional markets, the commission agents take at least 10% commission of the sales. They also take two to three days to hand over the cash to the farmers. Not just money, they relieve farmers of their products also as commission. Like in the case of coconuts, a good number of coconuts are taken free by the traders. The pricing is unjust and there is not much support to farmers under the regular market system.
Vegetable farmers can’t store their produce till they get the right price, making them vulnerable to exploitation by the traders. But the farmers have no choice other than to give away their produce to the commission agents and traders and remain at their mercy. Farmers markets are truly a relief to the farmers from this exploitative system. Sadly, the scheme was not implemented widely. For instance, the number of farmers’ markets has not crossed 180 though the scheme was implemented in 1999. Not many cities or towns have farmers’ markets.
There are 22 city corporations including the newly created Tambaram Corporation in addition to 146 municipal corporations and 561 town panchayats in Tamil Nadu. All these local bodies have great potential to start farmers markets. With Tamil Nadu topping the urbanization chart in India, many farmers have indeed moved away from traditional farming. But there is no dearth of demand for farm produce. Vegetables are now ferried to the state from neighbouring Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Farmers markets are a win-win for consumers and farmers. The vegetables are available at a reasonable rate as the prices are fixed 20% above wholesale rate and 15% below retail rate. In reality, farmers don’t benefit much because the prices are not fixed based on their input and cultivation cost. The pricing mechanism works based on demand and supply at the larger vegetable markets in the state like in Oddanchathiram or Koyambedu vegetable wholesale markets. The supply decides the price. Let’s say if the supply of tomatoes on a given day is 100 trucks to these markets and the price is fixed as Rs 30 per kilogram, the price would fall to Rs 15 if the market receives 200 truckloads the next day. If the supply drops to 50 trucks, the price will shoot up to Rs 60 per kilogram. Such pricing doesn’t benefit the farming community. If there is a minimum support price drawn on the expenditure they incur on producing a vegetable, the farming community will benefit to some extent.
On the management front, the government deserves appreciation for running these markets. There are dedicated officers to manage them and the state agriculture department drives the scheme. But they do face challenges since the markets function in corporation or municipality properties. The market authorities have to pay a huge sum as rent. The government should either cancel this rent component with a government order or provide it from the state government’s exchequer. There is also another danger of fund crunch. These are long-term schemes that require seamless funding for which they should be connected with respective government departments. Lack of funds should not stall farmers’ markets.
There is also a practice of farmers procuring vegetables from wholesale markets and selling them in farmers’ markets. But we can’t blame farmers when the consumers demand vegetables not cultivated in the region. For instance, a Ramanathapuram farmer can’t sell carrot or beetroot cultivated in hill stations because he or she can’t grow them in their fields locally.
Consumer awareness is the need of the hour as well. The consumption should be more on locally cultivated vegetables that are healthy. Hill vegetables travel a long way and they are usually heavy on pesticides. Further, many don’t seem to consume green leaves though they are extremely rich in nutrients. Consumers can also reduce their dependency on costly vegetables by supplementing with green leaves. It can reduce their budget on vegetables as well. Government agencies especially the health department should take the lead in promoting awareness. It could be a connecting point of health with agriculture.
The government can also order vegetable procurement from farmers’ markets for midday meals and anganwadis. Farmers’ markets should be a place where farmers can sell anything they cultivate, not just vegetables. Organically cultivated rice and cereals could be marketed. Such shops could be allotted to farmers’ associations. Local farm products could be marketed by them. Farmers can also sell the seeds for green leaves and vegetables they cultivate. Government should strictly ban the practice of farmers buying vegetables from wholesale markets to sell in farmers’ markets. It defeats the very purpose of farmers’ markets
Farmers can also sell the seeds for green leaves and vegetables they cultivate. Government should strictly ban the practice of farmers buying vegetables from wholesale markets to sell in farmers’ markets. It defeats the very purpose of farmers’ markets.
Farmers can be encouraged to market the value-added products like pickles, dried vegetables since the women folk at their houses will be quite skilled in these products. It would augment the income for farmers. Farmers’ eatery is another idea which can be started in farmers’ markets. After the daily sales, the farmers can become chefs to cook their vegetables and sell food items to customers.
Like parents – teachers associations in schools, there is a possibility to start farmers – consumers associations. There are examples for such initiatives. An organic farmer Khader Meeran and his friends from Dindigul started farmers – consumers’ federation to run a vegetable market. They conducted training sessions on organic farming as well.
With all such possibilities, the farmers’ markets should be strengthened to boost a greener economy in our localities.