With middlemen out, farmer markets earn Rs 5 crore per week

MUMBAI: The state government's decision to deregulate sale of fruits and vegetables and set up weekly farmer markets has paid off handsomely for growers.

In a report presented to the central planning agency, NITI Aayog, the state government has revealed that the turnover of 94 farmer markets across Maharashtra has touched Rs 5 crore per week with sales in the region of 800-1,000 tonnes.

Profits earned thus directly accrue to cultivators instead of getting divided among various players down the line extending from farmgate to marketyard, which includes middlemen and wholesale dealers.

It was in June 2016 that the state decided to delist fruits and vegetables from the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) act, allowing growers to sell farm produce directly to consumers.

Before the amendment, they could sell their goods only in a limited number of markets managed by boards set up under APMC law. People could not buy directly from them. Through deregulation, Maharashtra has given farmers a choice to decide where they want to sell their produce and also freed them from the iron grip of the middlemen.

"For the first time, we are able to take home whatever we make. There is no need to give commission or sell at low rates. Initially we were uncertain about the response and didn't know if it was a good idea to incur additional transport costs and come to Mumbai to sell perishable goods like vegetables. But in the first two months we've been returning with an empty truck," said Santosh Mane, a farmer from Junnar who has a stall at the Worli Diary market.

Officials said that most of the markets have sprung up in big cities such as Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nashik and Navi Mumbai; and the response has been overwhelming. Farmers who cart their produce to these markets usually go back sold out. On an average, 30-35 stalls are put up in each market, but the numbers do increase based on patronage.
Among the first farmer market to be set up were those in Mumbai, the first being in the parking lot of Vidhan Bhavan within the government complex in south Mumbai.Now, in less than a year, there are 94 of them in the state.

A cultivator who is a member of a farmer-producer initiative which sets up stalls at various locations in Pune and Mumbai, said demand was high because the produce is fresh. "If we have to set a stall on Sunday morning in Mumbai, we start from Nashik on Saturday night. So the time from farms to kitchens is less than 6-8 hours," he said.
A regular buyer at the Lalbaug farmer's market Shilpa Shah agreed that fruit and vegetables sold are fresh "even though it is priced at the same rate as at any other vendor".

The other advantage of shopping at farmer markets is the supply of less commonly available fruits and vegetables specific to certain regions. For instance, certain varieties of okra and yam and drumstick leaves are not usually found in urban centres, but farmers who grow them are now able to provide it.

Also, following the success of this initiative, the state is toying with the idea of delisting grains as well from the APMC act. However, the decision would depend on finding requisite space for grain markets.

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