Small farmers, daily wagers take to vegetable retail selling in Himachal due to lockdown

The development is being seen as a positive outcome of the COVID-19 lockdown

By Rajeev Khanna
Published: Friday 17 April 2020

Many marginal farmers with small holdings have started retailing of their vegetable produce in Himachal Pradesh due to the ongoing lockdown over the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

These are farmers who have just a couple of sacks full of produce to sell. Instead of taking this to the local mandis (wholesale markets), they are now heading with it to the local residential colonies.

The farmers are mainly selling peas and, in some cases, cauliflower. Beans and capsicum are expected to join these commodities soon. Besides these, they are selling curd and cottage cheese as well.

Some farmers with whom this reporter interacted, said the rates they got for the peas produce at the local mandi was around Rs 25 per kilogram. This came back to the retail shopkeepers who sold it for Rs 40-50 per kg.

“We have found that since we have a small quantity to sell, why not sell it at strategic points in residential zones directly at Rs 40 per kg during the hours when there is curfew relaxation, by cutting all the middle channels,” a ‘retail’ farmer, said.

“The consumer is happy as he is getting fresh produce at his doorstep at an affordable rate,” he noted.

“His worry of going to the market for purchasing vegetables in a crowd is taken care of in these days of social distancing because in his locality, there is no crowd. He is happier when we offer him fresh curd and cottage cheese as well,” he added.

Most of these farmers have tied up with milkmen coming to the towns from peripheral villages. They hop into the milk wagons with their small consignments and do the selling while the milkmen deliver the milk door to door and both return back to their village together.

Besides small farmers, daily wagers, who were otherwise employed mainly in the construction sector as masons and grill welders, are also doing retail vegetable selling.

A lot of these labourers are picking up vegetable produce directly from farms owned by people whose holdings are slightly bigger than those of marginal farmers.

The farmers are more than happy to sell their produce right at their door step to the labourers as they do not have to worry about transporting the produce to the local mandi or to sell it themselves.

“I was a daily wager and used to come looking for employment to the Labour Chowk daily. The lockdown and curfew put a halt to that,” a labourer-turned-vegetable seller in Solan, said.

“I have now taken to purchasing small amounts of vegetables from the farmers in the adjoining villages and selling them in the market,” he said.

“I also procure some packets of mushrooms from small farms in these villages. I am more than satisfied even if I am able to earn Rs 200 daily in these tough times,” he added.

This phenomenon is being reported from several small localities, towns and cities in the state where vegetables are grown in the periphery. These include places like Theog, Sanjauli, Karsog, Solan, Sundernagar, Mandi, etc.

But it is causing heartburn among those who have taken shops on rent and have been traditionally selling vegetable in retail.

However, many think this is a very positive phenomenon as the beneficiaries here are those at the bottom of the ladder.

“In fact, we have been demanding something on these lines for long. Just like there are Kisan Mandis or Apni Mandis held at regular intervals in big cities in the plains like Chandigarh, we have been calling for Zonal Mandis in the state,” Kisan Sabha leader Kuldip Tanwar, said.

“Our problem is that we do not have open spaces for such markets but they can be organised at zonal levels. The small farmer is a big sufferer even in normal times when he takes his produce to the mandi on a day there is a glut and prices crash,” he added.

The small farmer’s selling the produce directly to the consumer was for his own good, Tanwar said.

Himachal Pradesh produced approximately 17 lakh metric tonnes of vegetables every year, Tanwar said. Out of this, peas alone accounted for approximately one lakh metric tonnes.

Currently, transporting produce to the mandi was a problem for small farmers since vehicle owners would not transport small quantities at affordable prices, Tanwar said.

“Peas and beans are produce that can be transported comparatively easily to nearby destinations, rather than taking them to the collection centres and then not getting a remunerative price at the mandi,” he added.

Farmers in the Waknaghat area of Solan pointed at another promising sign in these days of lockdown and curfew.

“The youth that abhorred putting his feet in the fields is nowadays involved in plucking peas with enthusiasm. Everyone is looking at the livelihood opportunities in the post-pandemic scenario. Till now, many were of the opinion that vegetable cultivation is not much remunerative given the high input costs, hard labour and low market returns,” a farmer from the area said.

“But who knows how many will have to fall back on this vocation in the days to come. One only expects some long pending interventions from the government to make this sector lucrative,” he added.

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