I get delighted when I find an industrialist such as Abhay Firodia of Kinetic Engineering writing for the farmers. I come from a farmer family and have some special motive to see farmers getting prosperous. They toil hard. They produce all the food grains and vegetables, fruits and flowers. But they remain poor and perhaps if the condition doesn’t change, they will remain poor, as they hardly get any advantages out of the inflation of their produce. However, the middlemen between the farmers and the consumers at different points of the supply chain keep getting the maximum benefits becoming millionaires, and some even billionaires too by creating artificial scarcity, by hoarding, or simply by their marketing skill. If the Arab sheikhs can keep on increasing the crude oil price and becoming the richest in the world, why can’t the farmers be allowed their right shares out of the money the consumers pay for their produce? Why should the middlemen keep on getting the best from inflation, while the farmers starve, live a miserable life, and quite often resorts to suicides? Firodia also has come out in support of the farmers. “Higher food prices can act as an incentive to farmers leading to increased production. Food prices then automatically come down. The catch is that higher food prices do not always reach the farmers; the middlemen pocket it. The government must create conditions where farmers are able to sell their produce directly to consumers so that both can benefit.” I wish those who matter will listen.
Let us look at the story of the uncontrolled cotton exports and who gets benefited out of the deals? “It is common knowledge that farmers do not export cotton. Our cotton crop starts arriving in the market by October and farmers by February-March sell most of it. A careful examination of the price trends of cotton will show that most of the increase in prices occurs every year after March, when the cotton is already in the hands of ginners and traders. Thus, farmers get only a limited share from the increased cotton prices.” The cotton farmers must get the right share of the price that the produce fetches for the exporters.
It is the same story with all the food grains, be it wheat, paddy, or pulses. The middlemen, traders and the exporters use criminal tactics to get the farmers sell at the minimum. In cases of short life items such as vegetables and fruits, the traders create a condition where the farmers leave the produce in mandi and leave. Farmers being a marginal landholder always in debt can hardly hoard waiting for the right time and market for getting the best price, neither have they the facilities such as warehouses or mills. Instead of giving waivers and subsidies, the government must facilitate in creating sufficient number of the right type of warehouse and refrigerated transportation facilities.
Organized retail sector can certainly come to help the farmers on condition it is genuinely interested in it. At least many such as ITC, Reliance Retail, or Bharati Group have declared their intentions to protect the farmers from the exploitation by the petty traders and middlemen. As reported, Aadhar is becoming the sourcing hub for Future group retail outlets such as Big Bazzar or Food Bazzar. that are today the biggest. Reaching out to 50,000 farmers every month, the company has already employed 300 people to directly access the produce of farmers across 2,000-odd villages in Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Other retailers such as Bharati are also taking initiative to involve the farmers directly and that will certainly get them better prices. Some NGOs such as Sevashram are advising the farmers in ways to have better returns with organic farming. It buys the produce that the farmers want to sell. It often pays more than the market price. Naturally, the marginal farmers are in need of such handholdings.
NGOs and the exponentially growing organized retail sector can come out with contracts and direct purchase at the right price or for storing on behalf of the farmers so that they can get the best price.