The government’s farm reforms may be on the backburner but there is no rolling back its larger Digital India initiative that uses technology to deliver services to farmers. A case in point is the progress of the electronic National Agriculture Market (e-NAM), which was launched in April 2016 to catalyse the digital transformation of mandi or marketplace operations for the trading of agricultural commodities. The objective was to create a transparent online competitive bidding system to enable farmers to secure remunerative prices for their produce. Since then, trade volumes on the e-NAM platform have steadily gathered pace, improving market access of farmers and creating a unified national market for agricultural produce, as reported by FE.
e-NAM trade now covers a growing list of commodities like apples, saffron, ragi (finger millets), jeera (cumin seeds), chana (gram), soyabean, copra, and silk cocoons. Private entities providing services such as transportation, logistics, assaying, weather forecast and fintech are also being integrated into the platform to enable more farmers to sell their produce to buyers of their choice. At present, 1,260 mandis in 22 states and Union territories are integrated with e-NAM. Around 17.5 million farmers, 2,433 farmer producer organisations,0.24 million traders, 0.1 million commission agents and other stakeholders are currently registered with e-NAM. The platform thus has reached critical mass or scale to significantly improve farmer incomes.
The progress towards “One Nation One Market”—which enables efficient price discovery—has been facilitated by inter-state trade which has recently commenced with farmers from Kashmir, Maharashtra and Rajasthan selling their produce to buyers in Kerala, Odisha, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Maninder Kaur Dwivedi, MD of Small Farmers’Agri-business Consortium, which is administering this platform, told this newspaper that the start of inter-state trade with same-day digital payments to farmers’ bank accounts is showing a way forward. To be sure, trade in farm produce within individual states like copra (Tamil Nadu), dry fish and betel leaf (Odisha), etc has grown at a faster clip this fiscal as markets still remain highly fragmented.
Overall turnover of e-NAM in this fiscal till February stood at `67,000 crore, up by 40% from a year earlier. For a sense of perspective, this represents 13% of the annual trade in farm goods, excluding milk and marine products, that is in excess of `5 trillion. Clearly, e-NAM has some distance to cover which is predicated on the faster growth of inter-state trade in agricultural produce. The fact that farmers are increasingly accessing this platform for getting real-time information on prices prevailing in various mandis is the best augury for securing the best prices for their produce to improve their incomes. While e-NAM has no doubt made progress, there is a need to strengthen the platform further. Various suggestions in the past made by apex chambers like Ficci in a 2017 report and agricultural economists like Ashok Gulati deserve consideration. More agri-market reforms are needed starting with basics of assaying, sorting, and grading facilities for primary produce as per nationally recognised and accepted standards. Suitable infrastructure at the mandi-level (like godowns, cold storages, and driers) needs to be created to maintain those standards. A national integrated dispute resolution mechanism needs to be evolved to tackle cases where the quality of goods delivered varies from what is shown and bid for on the electronic platform.