Coronavirus lockdown: Vegetable, grain mandis limp back to normalcy

People buy vegetables at a market in Patna on Tuesday
Agricultural markets (mandis) have started reopening in many parts of the country a week after the nationwide lockdown was imposed. However, the process has been gradual and operations have been disrupted at some centres. 

Those mandis that have continued to operate have introduced safety measures for workers, and restrictions on arrivals and supplies to avoid crowding.

However, reports have come from across the country that farmers have dumped their produce after being unable to deliver them to mandis or use them as animal feed. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, oilseed supplies have been affected and, hence, oil crushing units have sought permission to buy directly from farmers.

In Mumbai, the Vashi vegetable mandi has been functioning but has adopted a system to keep crowds away by instituting different timings for arrivals and dispatches. The grain mandi has reduced crowds by a fifth through a novel strategy of supplying and receiving goods on alternate days.

“At least 15,000 people enter the market yard every day, which is impossible to handle. We, therefore, have decided to limit entry,” Sushil Singatkar, director of Vashi Agricultural Produce Market Committee meeting (APMC).

The APMC in Wardha is planning to open trading for foodgrain on Friday. “To maintain social distancing, we are going to book sell orders in lots of 10 farmers at a time and allow 10 buyers to attend the auction,” said Shyam Bhimraoji Karlekar, chairman of Wardha APMC.

The Lasalgaon APMC in Maharashtra, Asia’s biggest market for onions, was shut for the holidays and has remained closed after a Covid-19 patient was identified in a nearby village. “The administration has asked us to comply with the lockdown as all villages near the mandi have been quarantined. Since this coincides with the financial year end, the market yard will remain closed till the next order from the government,” said Narendra Wadhvane, secretary of the APMC.

Gujarat

In Gujarat, the sale of fresh vegetables and fruits has been relatively immune to the lockdown, while the impact has been felt more on sale of grains, pulses and edible oil.  “We are seeing daily arrivals with minimal impact. As against 17,000 quintals of fresh vegetables daily, arrivals have reduced to 15,000 quintals,” said Dipak Patel, secretary of Ahmedabad APMC.

However, grains and pulses have seen some impact since inventory is falling and new arrivals will take time to reach markets.

“Auction of grains and pulses at APMCs is closed. The harvest is ready in the fields but workers are not available. Supply line has also been affected because transport has been moving slow as a result of the lockdown. There was some supply from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, which has stopped. However, there is no scarcity yet. For instance, wheat is available in the government’s warehouses, but private warehouses are empty,” said Ramesh Saraf, president of All Gujarat Roller Flour Mill Association.

In the Saurashtra region, cities like Rajkot have seen groundnut oil prices shoot up to Rs 2,270 per 15 kg tin. According to APMC sources, oil crushing has almost closed because of which groundnut arrivals have stopped. National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (Nafed) has discontinued auctions and currently has 600,000 tonnes of groundnut stock.

Tamil Nadu

The state has permitted resumption of operations over the past few days, and vegetable arrivals have doubled at the Koyambedu wholesale market in Chennai since then. 

However, the problem is onward supply to retailers as farmers continue to send vegetables in bulk. Chandran, president of the Koyambedu Market Licensed Merchants’ Association, said outflow had declined drastically after the lockdown was announced. 

Only 30 per cent of arrivals were being sold, with the rest going to waste and both farmers and traders suffering losses.  Labour shortage is another issue facing the markets, as the number of workers has reduced to just around 1,000, down from 10,000 earlier, and costs have quadrupled as well. 

Bihar 

Perhaps for the first time since 2007, when the state suspended the APMC Act, farmers in Bihar are facing a crisis of not having a centralised place to sell produce in though there is demand. As a result, farmers at many locations are throwing away vegetables or using them as animal feed.  Wheat procurement has been delayed and mills are not able to produce or supply wheat flour, causing scarcity in retail markets and an increase in prices. The government has intervened to normalise prices.

Telangana

As the agriculture market yards were shut across the state, the government has made alternate arrangements to purchase paddy, maize and other produce in the current rabi season directly from farmers at their villages or designated government purchase centres.

The government has extended loan guarantees worth of Rs 25,000 crore for procurement of paddy and another Rs 3,000 crore for purchase of maize from farmers in the next couple of months. This has helped maintain supplies of essentials like vegetables.

All the dedicated vegetable and fruit markets in Hyderabad were kept open allowing farmers to directly bring produce from neighboring districts without any hindrance. Vegetable prices were also under check because of good supplies. 

Delhi, Punjab and Haryana 

The lockdown has hit supply of fruits and vegetables at the Asia’s biggest agriculture market at Azadpur in the national capital. Although, central and state government agencies have taken steps to ease the intra and interstate movement of agricultural and horticultural produce, the situation is far from normal. 

“Business in Azadpur mandi is down by over 50 per cent. The bulk of our supply comes from Maharashtra and over the past week there has been a significant drop in the number of trucks coming from the state,” Rohit Chawla of Chawla Fresh Vegetables, Azadpur, said. The situation was more or less similar in mandis of neighbouring Punjab and Haryana. “The arrival of agricultural produce from UP has also come down while demand was already fallen,” said Gyanchand of Gyanchand & Sons, Azadpur.

West Bengal

At Posta Bazar in Kolkata, shops are opening on rotational basis as planned by the mandi. While there is no fresh supply of foodgrain and pulses and other essential food items from outside the state, according to Chandan Chakraborti, president of the Posta Bazar Merchants’ Association, the market has enough stocks to cater for the next 15 days.  He said availability of labourers was a big problem.

(Reporting by Dilip Kumar Jha, Vinay Umarji, TE Narasimhan, Virendra Singh Rawat, Dasarath Reddy, Namrata Acharya)



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