Almost two years after the state government introduced the concept of direct selling of fruits and vegetables by farmers’ groups, lack of awareness drives and internal shortcomings seem to have impeded its success. At present, 68 farmers’ groups are directly selling their products at 226 locations in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad.
The initiative to allow farmers to directly sell vegetables and fruits was taken under the National Initiative for Vegetables in Urban Clusters.
Under the scheme, the Maharashtra State Agricultural Marketing Board (MSAMB) was to help the farmers’ groups market their products directly in Pune, Mumbai and Nagpur. MSAMB’s role was to help groups identify potential markets and provide subsidies in setting up kiosks, besides equipping them with vans and other necessary things.
Officials said the move was to ensure alternate markets for farm produce and also to deregulate the sale of fruits and vegetables from the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs). The prices of farm products are mainly controlled by commission agents in APMC’s, with many farmers’ groups complaining of not getting reasonable prices for their produce. The state government also plans to de-list fruits and vegetables from the APMCs, which till date has met with very strong protests.
Gorakh Shaflake of Indrayni Krishi Viksa Ghat said direct selling had made fixed profit possible for farmers. The group, which comprises around 20 farmers, is now selling their produce to eight housing societies in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. “We prepare our own production plan to meet the demands of households in societies. For products that are not readily available with our group, we barter with other groups,” he said.
The group has also managed to work out a pricing system for themselves. “The prices are fixed for 15 per cent profitability, of which 5 per cent is given to a farmer and 10 per cent to meet transport and other expenses,” he said.
He said of the 20 farmers, six look after marketing and transport and the rest are associated with production. For consumers, this translates into profit as prices are cut by four-five times as compared to prices fixed by middlemen.
Similar has been the experience for Ganesh Salve of Ahmednagar Bhajipala Ghat, who has 22 farmers conducting business in 10-12 housing societies. Salve said the profit margin for farmers has not been very high as they are concentrating on reach out to more people.
However, both farmers’ groups and MSAMB officials point out flaws that are slowing the progress of the initiative. Farmers’ groups claim that lack of proper marketing and awareness is making it difficult for them to reach out to more people. “In a society of 200 flats, only 100 purchase products from us. Many do not know about us and we do not have the resources to increase our client base,” said Shaflake.
MSAMB officials blamed inter-group relations, which often make it difficult for groups to function properly. “When the produce is left out, there is bickering among members. There are also petty quarrels over profit sharing. If the group is in profit, everything is smooth but when there is a loss no one wants to take the burden,” said a senior official of MSAMB.