COVID-19: Is e-NAM portal capable of supporting farmers?

Government realises the complexities of the portal 4 years after it was launched

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Wednesday 08 April 2020

The 21-day nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has made it tough for farmers to harvest and sell produce. The Union government, to allay the fears of farmers, announced on April 2, 2020 that it would initiate a procurement process through the National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) platform.

The e-portal will reduce the need for farmers to physically go to mandis (wholesale markets) for selling their produce, according to the government statement.

But will this platform be enough to solve the problems of farmers?

What is e-NAM?

The e-NAM platform was launched on April 14, 2016 as a pan-India electronic trade portal linking agricultural produce market committees (APMCs) across all states.

The government — at the time of the launch — had claimed that the platform would serve as an online trading system, like Inc and Flipkart Pvt Ltd: The buyer and the farmer would both need to register on the platform to buy and sell harvest. The farmer needs to upload details of his produce and a photo of the harvest on the platform.

Not a simple process

The actual process, however, makes farmers bring a sample of their produce that is evaluated and graded by agricultural assessors.

A report on the sample can be accessed by any buyer in any state before making the purchase, once graded by assessors.

The government realised the complexities of the process four years after the launch of the portal and said that farmers could get their produce graded from a warehouse nearest to them and not commute to a mandi from remote areas.

It is, however, still not clear whether produce can be graded at the warehouse or not.

Farmers feel more comfortable with physical trading rather than going online, said the secretary of a prominent mandi in Uttar Pradesh, on the condition of anonymity.

A Gujarat-based trader had tried to buy wheat online, but the deal ended with a lot of trouble related to transportation, according to the secretary.

There is a tremendous amount of pressure from the government, however, to use the e-trading software. Registered farmers and buyers could, thus, still sell their produce at mandis and complete formalities of the portal then and there to show their sales were completed online.

“No buyer books produces online and if anyone does, he faces issues with transportation,” said Dharmendra Malik, leader of Bhartiya Kisan Union.

“It has been four years since the platform was launched and now the government says it will associate 3.75 lakh trucks with online mandis. Is it possible to associate such a large number of truck with the online mandi 10 days before the trade starts?” he asked.

The harm on the procurement process across the country from the lockdown, thus, puts the spotlight on the limited reach of the e-NAM portal.

There are 585 mandis currently connected with the portal. e-NAM would soon expand to cover an additional 415 mandis, taking the total number to 1,000, said Narendra Singh Tomar, the Union minister for agriculture and farmers’ welfare, on April 2.

The same remark was, however, made by former agriculture minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawar in the Rajya Sabha on January 4, 2019.

This means no new mandis were added to the portal between January 2019 to March 2020.

“There are 6,946 regulated wholesale mandis (APMC markets) in the country as on 31.03.2018. So far, as per the target, 585 mandis of 16 States and 02 Union Territories have been integrated with e-NAM platform,” the government said in a reply to a question in Parliament on February 11, 2020.

Only 8.42 per cent of the total mandis were connected through the e-NAM platform.

“No mandi around us is connected to e-NAM. We were hearing for two-three years that Ballabhgarh mandi will be linked with e-NAM portal,” said Prahlada Singh, a farmer from Haryana’s Ballabhgarh area.

From this, it can be estimated how long it can take to connect 415 mandis to e-NAM platform.

Approximately 16.6 million farmers, 127,963 traders and 70,904 commission agents joined the e-NAM platform, Tomar said in parliament on March 6, 2020.

More than 16.4 million farmers registered on e-NAM till June 30, 2019, according to the government on July 9, 2019.

Only 200,000 farmers, thus, joined the platform in the past nine months.

There were 263.1 million agricultural workers in the country, of which 118.9 million were farmers and 144.3 million were agricultural labourers, according to the 2011 census.

Only 14 per cent of these farmers were able to connect with e-NAM, going by this data.

What the remaining 86 per cent of the farmers do in the lockdown to sell their produce is a matter of concern for the government now.

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