Agricultural mandis in many parts of the country have started going operational a week after the nationwide lockdown was implemented, but the process is gradual and disruption persists in some centres. Most mandis are arranging for the safety of their workers, including mathadis (Load-bearers). Arrivals and supplies are also being regulated in many centres to maintain flow and avoid crowding.
In several areas, especially distant regions, there are reports of farmers either dumping vegetables that could not be delivered to the mandis or using them as animal feed. The scene in Gujarat is worrying. In MP and Rajasthan ,oilseed suppplies have been disrupted and crushing units are asking for permission to buy directly from farmers.
The Vashi vegetable mandi, which caters to Mumbai and surrounding areas, is now functioning but has adopted a system to keep crowds away, with different timing for arrivals and dispatches. The grain mandi has reduced crowds by a fifth with its novel strategy of supply keeping the arrivals of goods and supply to the city on alternative days, without disturbing the feed.
"At least 15,000 people enter the market yard everyday which is impossible to handle. We have therefore decided to limit the entry," Sushil Singatkar, Director, APMC Vashi. The vegetable APMC has started issuing permits to control arrivals as per demand.
The Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) at Wardha is planning to open trading for food grains on Friday. It is open for farmers, traders, mathadis and arhatiyas (agents), but arrivals have remained dramatically lower now than in the same period in previous years.
"To maintain social distancing, we are going to book sell orders in a lot of ten farmers at a stretch, while ten buyers will attend the sale auction to control crowd," said Shyam Bhimraoji Karlekar, Chairman, APMC Wardha, the mandi handling large quantities of foodgrains, pulses, fruits and vegetables.
The onion APMC in Maharashtra's Lasalgaon had been shut earlier due to holidays. It shut again after a coronavirus
patient was identified in a nearby village, forcing farmers to sell in other mandis.
"The administration has asked us to comply with the lockdown as all villages near the mandi have been quarantined. Since the lockdown of the mandi coincides with the financial year end, followed by a few holidays, the market yard will remain closed till the next order from the government," said Narendra Wadhvane, secretary, APMC Lasalgaon, Asia's largest onion selling mandi.
In Gujarat, fresh vegetables and fruits have been relatively stable and the impact is more on grains, pulses and edible oil. Hover in the big vegetable mandis in Saurashtra, farmers come to sell but traders are hardly seen.
"We are seeing daily arrivals which have been minimally impacted. For instance, as against a daily 17,000 quintals of arrivals, we now get 15,000 quintals of fresh vegetables," says Dipak Patel, secretary, Ahmedabad APMC.
However, grains and pulses have been impacted since inventory is falling and new arrivals will take some 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 due to the lockdown. There was some supply from MP and Rajasthan, but that has also stopped due to interstate lockdown. However, there is no scarcity so far. For instance, wheat is available in government's FCI warehouses but private warehouses are empty since new arrivals are yet to come," says Ramesh Saraf, president of All Gujarat Roller Flour Mill Association.
On the other hand, in Saurashtra, 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 all but closed and so has the APMC, due to which groundnut arrivals have stopped. Government's NAFED has also discontinued auctions and currently has 600,000 tonnes of groundnut stock.
During the past few days, when the Tami Nadu permitted the resumption of agriculture, vegetable arrivals had doubled at the Koyambedu wholesale market in Chennai, the state’s largest vegetable and fruits wholesale platform. Now, some 6,000 tonnes of vegetables arrive daily, twice the quantity seen a day before.
The problem is onward supply from market to retail trade, as farmers continue to send vegetables in bulk. Chandran, president, Koyambedu Market Licensed Merchants’ Association, said that once the lockdown was announced, the outflow came down drastically.
Only 30 per cent of the arrivals are being sold now. The rest goes waste and both farmers and traders suffer loss. Almost 60 per cent of the products come from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, while onion and other vegetables come from Nashik, Sholapur and other centres. Labour is another issue with the workforce down from 10,000 to just 1,000, while labour costs have rised 4x.
Items like onion, potato, ginger, green piece, beans are sold below Rs 10 per kg in wholesale.
Perhaps for the first time since 2007 when the state suspended the APMC act, farmers are facing a crisis of a different kind where there is a produce, there is demand, but there is no centralised place to manage distribution amid several bottlenecks. Farmers in many places are dumping vegetables or using them as animal feed. Wheat procurement is delayed and mills are not able to produce or supply aata (wheat flour), causing scarcity in retail ad spiking prices. The government has now intervened to normalise the scene.
With the agriculture market yards remaining shut across the state in the light of the lockdown, the government has made alternate arrangements to buy rice, maize and other produce in the current Rabi season directly from farmers at their villages or at designated government purchase centres.
The government has extended loan guarantees worth Rs 25,000 crore for the procurement of paddy and another Rs 3,000 crore for purchase of maize from farmers in the next few months. This has helped maintain supplies of essentials.
All the dedicated vegetable and fruit markets
in the city were kept opened allowing farmers to directly bring their produce from neighbouring districts without hindrance. Vegetable prices also remained under check due to good supplies. Farmers in Telangana produced more than 3 million tonnes of vegetables.
The lockdown has hit supply of fruits and vegetables to consuming areas from the Asia’s biggest agro market, Azadpur Mandi, in the national capital. Although the central and state government agencies have taken steps to ease intra and interstate movement of agricultural and horticultural produce, the situation is still far from normal. Arrivals from nearby areas are happening but have been impacted from remote locations.
“Business in Azadpur Mandi is down by more than 50 per cent. The bulk of our supplies come from Maharashtra and over the past week there has been a significant drop in the number of trucks from the state following the restrictions imposed on their movement,” Rohit Chawla of Chawla Fresh Vegetables, Azadpur, told Business Standard.
However, the situation was more or less similar in the agro mandis of neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana.
“The arrival of agricultural produce from UP has also come down while demand was already fallen,” Gyanchand of Gyanchand & Sons, Azadpur.
At one of the biggest commodity markets
in eastern India, at Posta Bazar in Kolkata, shops are opening on rotational basis as planned by the mandi. While there is no fresh supply of food grains 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 is a big proble.
Meanwhile potato and vegetable supplies are less impacted as they are being locally transported in trucks to different districts the state.
Reporting by Dilip Kumar Jha, Vinay Umarji, TE Narasimhan, Virendra Singh Rawat, Dasarath Reddy, Namrata Acharya