UNTIL A year ago, Santosh Thakur would take his sacks and crates of peas, tomatoes, capsicum, beans, cauliflower and ginger to the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) in Solan Mandi, 46 km south of Shimla, and watch as commission agents, or arthiyas, called for bids and sealed them on his behalf.
The ex-serviceman says he was never happy with the price he got, and that he knew the agents made underhand deals with buyers but could do little about it. “That’s how these mandis have always operated. The agents charge a commission of 4 per cent from us and another 7 per cent from buyers,” says Thakur, 53, sitting in his vegetable shop 12 km from his home in Chausha village on the Shimla-Parwanoo stretch of NH 22.
That changed, however, when the markets of Solan and Shimla became part of the National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) project, a flagship pan-India electronic trading portal for agricultural produce launched by the central government in April 2016. Today, Thakur can log in to the e-NAM website, access real-time wholesale rates across the country and choose his buyer, completely bypassing the agents.
Within a year of the e-NAM launch, APMC Solan has transacted business worth Rs 4.09 crore, of which Rs 3.12 crore were from apples. APMC Solan has already enrolled 4,267 farmers, 92 commission agents and 423 traders under the e-trading project.
Every morning, farmers or their representatives turn up at the entry point of the mandi with their produce, after which APMC officials examine samples for quality and grade, and weigh them in the presence of farmers. The farmers, who are registered on the e-NAM portal, then log into the website using their unique ID numbers and list the items they want to sell, with descriptions about quality and quantity.
The action moves to the “bidding hall”, on the first floor of the market yard, where APMC officials sit with their laptops around a table, facing farmers and commission agents, who now act on behalf of buyers. With a supervisor overseeing the bidding, farmers watch the giant screen on the wall, which displays the item being bid by local traders and those from other states.
After the process is done, the farmer picks a suitable bid, the transaction is frozen and the grower issued a printed e-sale agreement. It’s up to the agents to ensure that the produce reaches buyers — the APMC charges a transaction fee of one per cent from buyers.
“It’s easy. This way, we get to sell our produce at the click of a button,” says Thakur, adding that the earnings of farmers have gone up by 60 to 70 per cent since the new system came in. “From the Rs 3.5-4 lakh that I used to earn earlier, I now make around Rs 7 lakh. This system is absolutely transparent and free from hera-pheri (manipulation). Receipts of the produce sold are credited to our bank accounts by the end of the day,” he says.
APMC officials say the project worked because they managed to convince the commission agents, who were initially opposed to the change. “They felt the new system would wipe out their business. We held detailed discussions with them and offered a few additional facilities, such as retaining their commission of five percent from buyers. They were also given licences for the entire state instead of the municipal area in which they operated,” says Prakash Kashyap, secretary, APMC Solan.
Solan Deputy Commissioner Rakesh Kanwar says the administration also held training programmes and interactive sessions to bring growers, commission agents and traders on the same page.
APMC Solan has gone a step further, introducing an ‘e-retail concept’, as part of which fruits and vegetables are supplied directly to homes. Buyers can either order online through hpsubzimandi.com or call a dedicated number. Since May 2016, said officials, APMC has earned Rs 16.8 lakh through retail e-marketing. After Solan and Shimla, 17 other wholesale markets in Himachal, including those in the apple belt of Shimla, Kullu and Mandi districts, have chosen to adopt the e-NAM system.
On April 21 this year, Kanwar and Kashyap received the national award for excellence in implementation of e-NAM from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on civil services day in New Delhi.
“Solan has shown the way. It’s now up to farmers and growers to take this forward as an example for the country,” says Subash Manglet, who heads the Himachal State Agri Marketing Board, an umbrella body for the state’s mandis.