Farmers and vegetables
The state government's proposal to allow farmers to sell vegetables and fruits directly in the market or to a private company has evoked mixed response from the commission agents at the wholesale markets.
However, farmers' organisations have welcomed the move.
The commission agents, who currently influence the sale of vegetables, fruits and spices, through the agriculture produce market committees, will lose their monopoly if the sale of agriculture produce is decontrolled.
But, the state has defended the move as investment-friendly and beneficial for farmers and consumers.
The state government had announced the proposal a few weeks ago and had invited objections and suggestions on it till April 30.
There are about 300 small and large agriculture produce market committees in the state, which control the sale of agri produce and fruits in the market.
Traders source the goods from these market committees and sell them to vendors, who in turn sell them to small retailers.
Commission agents normally get an idea about shortage or glut of a particular produce and can manipulate the prices.
All the wholesale markets in the state come under the Maharashtra State Agriculture Marketing Board, a government body that looks after the marketing of the produce.
A senior official of the board, on condition of anonymity, said, "We are aware of the power wielded by the commission agents vis-a-vis demand and supply of vegetables and fruits.
They can manipulate the prices and within hours transactions of lakhs of rupees take place, but farmers hardly get any benefit.
The existing laws have given more powers to the market committees.
It should be modified as we want private companies to invest in this sector."
When the state government had compiled data of infrastructure in the agriculture produce market committees and its quality, it was found that the infrastructure was inadequate.
The official added: "After implementation of the model act, where private players were allowed to procure vegetables and fruits from farmers directly, we received good feedbacks from private players and farmers.
The consumers were also happy buying vegetables and fruits in clean retail shops than buying it from roadside vendors.
The decontrolling of the system will make this process faster and more investment will come from private players in infrastructure, setting up of supply chain and better processing facilities...
The current vegetable handling methods cause about 30% wastage, which can be reduced with the help of sophisticated methods used by private players."
The farmers' organisations have extended full support to the proposal.
Raghunath Patil, leader of the Sangli-based Shetkari Sanghatna, said: "With the decontrol of vegetables and fruits, the market committee network will not collapse in a day.
The private players and market committees will compete for vegetable procurement, which will help the farmers get higher returns for the produce.
So far, farmers never had the opportunity to decide the price."
The competition will also provide better infrastructure to farmers and money for increasing yield and improving quality, he added.
Shivlal Bhosale, chairman of the Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Market Yard Commission Agents Association at the Pune market committee, said: "The commission agents understand farmers' need and we try to get good price for their produce in the market.
It is a mystery why the state wants to break the existing network of farmers, commission agents, small vendors, and consumers.
There are thousands of families that depend on each market committee in the state, which includes farmers, suppliers, transporters, labourer and vendors, who purchase vegetables from the wholesale market.
Their life will be at stake if private companies snatch their source of earning."
The commission agents have already communicated their objections to the state government and have decided to intensify their protest against decontrolling of vegetables and fruits business.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.