Over nine months into the coronavirus pandemic, farmers’ weekly markets in the Maharashtra are facing a bleak state of affairs as fear of crowds keeps most of their loyal customers away. Compared to the nearly 100 tonnes of goods sold per week earlier, only about 40 tonnes are being sold now, said Tushar Agarwal, director of the Swami Samarth Farmers Producer Company, which runs 24 markets in Pune and Mumbai.
Agarwal said sales have dipped significantly, with the markets reporting low footfall. “People tend to stay away from crowded places, and they are not coming to our markets,” he said.
Citing the example of Balewadi market, he said 5,000-6,000 people used to visit it earlier, but now the market hardly gets any customers, who stay away due to the fear of catching the virus.
Farmers’ weekly markets have been one of the alternate market channels developed by the Maharashtra government to allow fruits and vegetable sellers to sell their produce directly to city consumers. Local municipal corporations provide open spaces where the FPCs, farmers groups or farmers themselves set up temporary shops to sell their produce directly in cities like Pune and Mumbai.
Swami Samarath FPC was one of the early movers in the scheme and had created a trusted client base in both the cities. On an average, it used to report sale of 100 tonnes of produce in its 24 markets.
During the lockdown, FPCs had played a significant role in ensuring supply of vegetables to urban areas. Back then, these decentralised markets had set up shops in housing societies, while many players had taken to delivering the produce through apps or online websites. The state Agriculture department and the Maharashtra State Agricultural Marketing Board had taken up the task of coordinating with FPCs for such orders.
Some weekly markets had even asked customers to provide lists of vegetables they wanted, which would be supplied to them. But as regular markets started opening up and more roadside vegetable vendors came back to business after the lockdown, these marketing efforts have been hit.
“Currently, we are ramping up our online presence, which will allow people to shop online,” said Agarwal.
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