By Zeeshan Shaikh
While onion prices are soaring, Bhima Sangle, a farmer who sells his produce at Lasalgaon Mandi, Asia’s largest onion market, says he makes little money
It is spread over 17 acres on a rectangular plot of land in the heart of Lasalgaon, a town some 225 km from Mumbai. The small size of the Lasalgaon mandi belies its status as Asia’s largest onion market and the price setter of the vegetable in the country.
The Lasalgaon mandi, or APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee), was set up in May 1947 to regulate agricultural trade and ensure farmers get fair deals for their harvest. Some 67 years on, that objective seems only partly fulfilled, as the story of 35-year-old farmer Bhima Sangle portrays.
Sangle has travelled 70 km from Gondegaon, one of the 63 villages that come under the jurisdiction of the Lasalgaon APMC, to reach the mandi at 8.30 am. It’s a lucky day, as only a handful of other onion-laden trolleys have lined up at the mandi gate. A far cry from the chaotic scenes in the peak season of December-January when over 2,000 vehicles — tractors, trailers and trolleys — jostle for space in the narrow, two-lane road leading up to the APMC.
Though Lasalgaon APMC, by law, is allowed to trade in 36 agriculture products, onions are the hottest commodities here. In 2013-14, onions formed nearly 70 per cent of the 49.05 lakh quintals of agricultural products traded in the mandi.
Sangle, who has come with close to 30 quintals of onion, parks his tractor and trolley outside the mandi gate. An APMC employee makes a note of Sangle’s vehicle and hands him a receipt before letting him inside. Sangle then drives his tractor down the main auction yard where other trolleys are lined up.
The mandi is bare, with few amenities for farmers who travel long distances and wait quite a bit to get their deals through. For years, a 20×20-foot shed was the only shelter that waiting farmers had. Four years ago, the market officials constructed a sitting area for farmers. The shed also houses an eatery which provides a “full meal” for Rs 15 a plate. But many like Sangle prefer to wait under the shade of the few trees that line the mandi before the auction begins.
At 9 am, commissioning agents and traders, along with a member of the APMC, start the first of the day’s two auctions. Farmers throw a few onion bulbs on the ground next to the trolley as samples for the traders to inspect. Among APMC’s 200-plus listed traders and an equal number of commissioning agents, only about a dozen have come for the auction today. They move in a group along with a mandi official and continued…