Dr Parveen Kumar Few days back a news item published in some national dailies caught the attention of entire nation and highlighted the plight of farming community in the country. It also revealed that despite a greater thrust on the marketing of farm produce through various innovative mechanisms and schemes, the situation on the ground has not changed considerably. A poor farmer from Ahmednagar, Maharashtra had to sell his onion for merely Rs 8/kg while in the market the onions are being sold at more than Rs 90 per kilogram. The said farmer felt devastated; doesn’t know how he is going to pay labourers or feed his family. Even the video of the farmer from Maharashtra crying over the rock-bottom price he got for his onion crop went viral on social media. There is an almost 900 per cent difference between the price customers are coughing up for the onion and what the farmers are getting in return. The seriousness of the matter can be best assessed by following the money trail in the onion business. If customers are paying Rs 99/kg and farmers are only getting Rs 8/kg, than the big question is where the rest of Rs 91 go? Last year also a progressive farmer Sanjay Sathe, resident of Niphad tehsil in Nasik district, produced 750 kg of onion which he had to sell in Niphad wholesale market at rupees one and forty paisa per kilogram and finally got rupees 1,064 for 750 kg. It was so painful for him to see such paltry returns on four months of toil that he donated Rs 1,064 to Disaster Relief Fund of the Prime Minister office as protest. He had to pay additional Rs 54 for sending it by money order. These stories of farmers’ plight are indeed not new and this has almost become a perennial problem. Hoarding of onions and other vegetables during the peak season has surfaced several times in the past. But till date no effective steps have been taken to get rid of this recurring problem. The marketing of the agriculture produce is one of the crucial operations that determine the profitability of the farming community and the remunerativeness of the entire agricultural system. A careful analysis of this problem reveals that the lacunae lie in the agricultural marketing system of the country. The agriculture marketing system in the country has undergone a sea change from once being run on a barter system to local village markets to direct marketing at national as well as beyond national bordersx .In today’s agri space, considerable changes have taken place with respect to trading and marketing. Once which used to be a door to door endeavor and at the most restricted to local village market yards, the agricultural goods today find their way beyond the international border. The products as part of better marketing antics undergo a series of changes through processing and value addition and are better packaged and stored. This segment alone has assumed the stature of an industry and has huge employment potential notwithstanding its better economic prospects. The Indian scene of marketing is highly regulated. The current system of organised marketing of agricultural commodities has been promoted through a network of regulated markets. Agricultural Markets in most parts of India are established and regulated under the State APMC Acts. Over a period of time, these established markets became restrictive and monopolistic, providing no help in direct and free marketing, organised retailing and smooth raw material supplies to agro-industries. Although the Centre passed a model APMC Act in 2003, it is yet to be adopted by the state governments. As a further refinement to the existing scenario of agri marketing in India, the government in 2016 announced unification of agricultural markets nationally through National Agriculture Market (NAM). The NAM offered to be a single platform to carry out marketing activities between farmers and traders. Further, in 2017, the government proposed a model law on agricultural marketing which would introduce features such as a single market within a state, private wholesale markets, direct sale by farmers to bulk buyers, and promotion of electronic trading. Alternatively, India has witnessed several alternative models. Contract farming, is one such model, which arises from an agreement between processing and/or marketing firms for production support at predetermined prices and has been proved as a workable model in Indian agriculture. Direct marketing by farmers through farmers’ market such as Apni Mandi in Punjab, Rytu Bazars in Andhra Pradesh, dairy cooperatives are some of the successful cases in marketing. Cooperatives were another alternative that were initiated to address the problem of the small scale of operation of small and marginal farmers.Marketing cooperatives were established to encourage to provide marketing facilities to small farmers. These cooperatives were supposed to increase bargaining strength of farmers, remove intermediaries and facilitate direct interaction with consumers. Farm producer organisations (FPOs) are emerging as a new model for organised marketing and farm business. Harnessing the power of internet has also become a suitable alternative in marketing, although its full potential in agriculture marketing is yet to be explored completely. Indian agriculture has,apart from fulfilling the food demands of the country, the mammoth responsibility of increasing the producer’s income and safeguarding the livelihood of the rural community. Developing proper channels of marketing locally and abroad is therefore crucial. Recently our Union Agriculture Minister, Radha Mohan Singh,while fielding questions in the Rajya Sabha, accepted the fact that farmers in the country are not getting the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their crops. While the minister should be commended for his honesty, the fact that he stated requires immediate attention. It was an open truth that farmers were not availing the benefits of MSP. The assertion by the minister puts on record the confirmation of this notion. More than five decades to its institution, MSP still has failed to catch the attention of farmers nor that of the policy makers. Since its inception in 1966-67, when MSP was announced for wheat at the wake of green revolution, this safety net has been expanded to include many crops. Currently 23 crops enjoys MSP. MSP was instituted to provide a fair return to efficient farmers and to protect the interests of consumers by keeping the prices of food and other agriculture commodities at reasonable levels. MSP also encourages the farmers to grow a particular crop. It was a necessity when it was instituted as India post-independence was staring at food supply deficits. So it was imperative for a fledgling country like India to ensure assured supply of food as a means to economically meet the demands of the populace than depending on the foreign imports. But the real question is how many farmers avail the benefit of MSP. It actual terms it is very few. A Niti Aayog study on evaluation of the efficacy of MSP on farmers in the period between 2007-8 and 2010 -11 neatly points out that 81 percent of the cultivators are aware of MSP fixed for different crops in various states, while 67% of the farmers sold their produces through their own arrangements. A substantial proportion of crops are sold to local private traders and input dealers to whom the resource-poor marginal and small landholders are obligated to sell their crops due to tie-up with credit. According to the National Sample Survey’s (NSS) Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households 2013, even for paddy and wheat, less than one-third of farmers were aware of the MSP; for other crops, such awareness was negligible. MSP has been popular in the green revolution states and in the rest of the country there are only few takers for this. MSP of most of the foodgrains has been increased by over 100% in the past 10 years, but it hardly benefited farmers in eastern and central India as majority there have not even heard of such procurement system. The situation is equally bad in other parts – except in states like Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and Western Uttar Pradesh – where farmers don’t get adequate price on time and therefore they have to opt for distress selling route in open market. The studies have repeatedly averred that all the government schemes in agriculture sector mainly benefit “rich” farmers. The importance of MSP cannot be ignored considering the pivotal role played by the same in increasing India’s food production. It can continue to do the same in years to come. However, awareness of MSP is critical for the success of the programme. If the farmers are aware of the MSP of crops, they can bargain price and refuse to settle for less. Their ignorance would make it easy for middlemen and other traders to exploit the farmers by quoting less price. Also, by suitably introducing MSP for newer crops, the government can influence the decision of the farmers in selecting a particular crop. This can help to break away from monoculture and promote crop diversification in the country. The government should therefore invest in creating awareness of the MSP regime among farmers. Building awareness is as crucial as the programme itself.
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