Pune: Every disaster comes with an opportunity, for farmers as far as the supply of vegetables and fruits is concerned, a new standard in the post-COVID-19 scenario would be the direct selling of farm produce to the consumers.
Enabled by technology, this trend might emerge as an alternative marketing channel for agricultural commodities.
As the country is hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and has been under the lockdown, several Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) in the State are also closed due to non-compliance with the social distancing norm. This absence of markets forced growers to take the alternate route of marketing their produce by connecting directly to consumers.
The Vegetable Growers Association of India (VGAI) has started connecting with housing societies in Pune and Mumbai for the supply of vegetables and fruits. Shriram Gadhave, President of the Association, said, “As the markets are closed and there is no place to sell our products, we decided to start directly connecting with consumers. This alternate channel helped us in earning a good amount of money and not much of our produce is wasted.”
Not only growers, but consumers also find that these alternate channels helped them a lot during the lockdown. One of the residents of Wagholi, Sanjiv Patil said, “Since the time the lockdown has started, our society is connected with growers nearby for the vegetable supply. It made things very convenient for us and everything was available at the doorstep and also fresh and at reasonable rates.”
Not only VGAI, many other growers and farmers groups started exploring alternate market channels to connect directly with consumers. Shetkari Sanghathana has started a campaign, Amchya Gavat Rast Bhavat (at our village, at a fair price). Its president Anil Ghanwat said, “The campaign received a good response from consumers and housing societies as it assured reasonable and fresh vegetables and fruits at their doorstep. We are planning to continue with this way of marketing even after the lockdown gets over as we believe that 70 per cent of the demand will continue even after the lockdown."
The consumers also find it very convenient and hope to continue it post the lockdown. Ganga Constella society, Kharadi vice-chairman Gaurav Sharma echoed the sentiment. He said, "We have 719 members and at present, we are getting doorstep delivery of vegetables and fruits from three farmers of Kesnand, Loni Kalbhor and Wagholi. We are getting fresh vegetables and fruits at a reasonable price at our society door. I never get Rs 50 per kg grapes, Rs 20 kg musk melon and Rs 20 kg watermelons. Now, we are getting it at a cheaper rate as compared to the market and without going anywhere. We are looking forward to continuing with these farmers even after the COVID-19 outbreak."
Sahayadri Farms of Nashik that helped over 1,200 farmers to sell their produce directly to over 600 societies in Pune, Mumbai and Nashik and supplied an average of 30 to 40 tonnes of vegetables and fruits to these societies every day. Vilas Shinde, Managing Director of Sahayadri Farms, hopes for an organised retail sector post-the lockdown, which will be run by farmers. He said, “We were working on the organised retail market for the last few years and what is better than the farmers to own that retail market. In the time of the lockdown, this concept got accelerated and farmers got connected with housing societies. We hope to continue it in the future as it will work in favour of both the consumers and farmers. It will also help farmers to work on the qualities of their produce. We hope to continue this post-lockdown as well and to facilitate more, we are also going to start taking individual orders from the customers and constantly working on the feedback and improving it so that this continues to remain.”
To combat the challenges faced by the farmers in the absence of wholesale mandis, this alternative route of marketing is most likely to stay as one of the major transition in the commodity markets. Gadhave said, “Even if the lockdown is removed, we hope to continue this marketing channel. We are planning to increase it post the lockdown and we are already in touch with the societies for the same. We are also working on our website up-gradation to facilitate the consumers in a better way.”
He said, “The lockdown might be lifted, but even after that we have to live with a new normal like social distancing and avoiding going out. A lot of people would continue to avoid markets and crowded areas, therefore, they will prefer vegetables at their doorstep. Secondly, in this kind of marketing, there is not much loading and unloading so that not many hands touch vegetables and a lot of people would prefer such commodities. It will help both consumers by providing them with fresh products and farmers will get good rates without too many middlemen."
Patil, a wagholi resident, also expressed to continue with the growers at their society doorstep. He said, “We hope to continue to buy from the farmers even after lockdown gets over as it is helping us to give fresh produce at reasonable rates and farmers also get the benefits by receiving good rates that too at our doorsteps."
Maharashtra Cooperatives Development Corporation (MCDC) started the initiative of supplying essential commodities to societies in the State during the lockdown. Milind Akre, Managing Director of Mahamcdc also expresses that this trend will continue post-lockdown. Under their initiative, they are aiming to connect with one lakh societies in the state post-the lockdown. He said, "At present, we are connected with over 500 housing societies and aim to connect with one lakh societies in the state. We have started the campaign of farms-to-fork, which will be institutionalised post the lockdown and is looking forward to connecting with more societies with the farmer's posts the lockdown."
He further said, "This kind of direct marketing will see further acceleration in coming days as well. This direct farming reduces the chances of loading and unloading many times which usually degrades the quality. Apart from providing fresh and reasonable commodities, it will also help farmers in understanding the demands of the consumer and help them doing demand-driven farming."
APMCs and direct marketing will co-exist in future
Though this farm-to-consumer connect might emerge as an alternative channel for the marketing of agricultural produce, experts feel that APMCs will continue to play an essential role. Gadhave said, "We are hoping to increase the reach of our initiative of directly connecting farms to societies post the lockdown. It might help us in giving the 20 per cent of the total market. However, the dependency on the APMC won't reduce as there are many small and marginalised farmers, who rely on these markets for selling their produce. For example, if a farmer is growing only one vegetable or fruit, such marketing won't help him and he needs a wholesale market or mandi to sell his release. However, in future, both can co-exist."