COVID-19 lockdown: Centre asks states to let food processing units to buy directly from farmers

Published: March 28, 2020 6:00:00 AM

In Guntur, the largest market for chilli and other spices, farmers are not bringing their produces to mandis, prompting the state to consider bringing farmers in batches from a particular area so that trading can resume.

Simultaneously, the Union agriculture ministry has persuaded mandi boards to operationalise fruits and vegetables trading in all mandis. Simultaneously, the Union agriculture ministry has persuaded mandi boards to operationalise fruits and vegetables trading in all mandis.

By Prabhudatta Mishra

The Centre has advised states to issue ad hoc direct marketing licences to corporates for facilitating their purchase of farmers’ produce at village levels, so that crowds at mandis are controlled in sync with the nationwide lockdown. The move will enable food processing firms to buy raw food items from small groups of farmers, bypassing intermediaries.

Simultaneously, the Union agriculture ministry has persuaded mandi boards to operationalise fruits and vegetables trading in all mandis. Out of about 2,000 mandis where fruits and vegetables are traded, at some places along with grains, as many as 1,509 were in operation on Friday, against 220 on Wednesday, an official said.

“Mandis are providing masks and sanitiser at gates to protect farmers and traders. They have also been advised to ensure social distancing inside the premises,” the official said. Once fruits and vegetables operations are streamlined, the focus will be on grains as well since harvesting of rabi crops has started in many places.

Haryana has made all 113 fruits and vegetable mandis operational and also allowed 125 registered farmer producers’ organisations (FPOs) to function from mandi premises, said RK Beniwal, chief administrator of the state’s agriculture marketing board. He said local authorities have fixed the operational hour for each mandi.

Though grains mandis are not closed in Haryana, there is no activity due to lockdown, as farmers are ready to wait for a few more days, Beniwal said. The state is likely to announce the official procurement of wheat from April 20, delaying it by 20 days from the normal schedule, sources said.

Rajasthan has postponed registration and procurement for an indefinite period since March 23.

Madhya Pradesh may issue a notification on official procurement after the lockdown period is over. The state, the third largest contributor to FCI’s wheat procurement for the central pool stocks, is yet to start purchasing even as harvesting has commenced. As many as 73 mandis, all dealing with fruits and vegetables, were in operation as on Friday. “The grain mandis (about 186) are not operational as farmers do not want to come out due to Covid-19,” said Sandip Yadav, managing director of the state agricultural marketing board.

In Guntur, the largest market for chilli and other spices, farmers are not bringing their produces to mandis, prompting the state to consider bringing farmers in batches from a particular area so that trading can resume. The Centre has requested the Andhra Pradesh government to issue ad hoc licence to spice manufacturers for directly sourcing raw materials from farmers.

“We have reached out to industry chambers so that sourcing of raw materials for food processors is eased. States are also advised to issue ad hoc purchase licence to bulk buyers so that they can buy the raw material without entering mandis,” a senior agriculture ministry official said. The Centre has also reached out to transporters and asked the agriculture marketing department of each state to make sure that trucks carrying fruits and vegetables are not stopped.

While consumers face shortages of food items in some places forcing the state governments to relax movement of essential goods and allow e-commerce companies to home deliver products, farmers are not that lucky. Due to lower arrival in Madhya Pradesh, vegetable prices in mandis have risen, while rates are down in wholesale markets in the National Capital Region due to lower offtake by retailers following closure of restaurants and eateries.

Brij Nandan, a farmer in Noida, complained that he is unable to sell vegetables that he grows on 12 bighas of hired land on banks of the Yamuna because of police crackdown. “Now, I earn Rs 50-100 daily, compared with of Rs 500-700 earlier.

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