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Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Coronavirus threat: Gujarat farmers worried as APMCs shut during rabi harvest season

The shutdown is to keep farmers, traders and labourers away from the yards to check the spread of coronavirus, officials said.

Written by Aishwarya Mohanty , Kamaal Saiyed, Avinash Nair | Ahmedabad, Sanand, Surat, Vadodara | March 22, 2020 12:55:43 am
coronavirus india updates, coronavirus in gujarat, gujarat coronavirus cases, latest news, gujarat news, indian express The APMC at Unjha in North Gujarat, which procures cumin, will also be shut for six days. (Express Photo)

Amid peak season of farmers harvesting wheat at the end of the rabi season, the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC), Sanand on Saturday decided to close down and suspend all procurement “indefinitely”. Officials said farmers will be informed of the closure on Sunday. The shutdown is to keep farmers, traders and labourers away from the yards to check the spread of coronavirus, officials said.

“This is an indefinite closure. All wheat procurement for the rabi season will remain suspen-ded till situation returns to normal,” said Girish Patel, Secretary of Sanand APMC, who was the only office-bearer in the office when The Indian Express visited.

On Saturday, tractors filled with wheat queued up to enter the APMC yard located a few metres from the office. When asked why there was no rush despite it being the last day of procurement before closure, Patel said, “The farmers are yet to be informed. We will publish in Sunday’s newspapers regarding the decision. We took a quick decision this morning after the state government officials called up on Friday and verbally instructed us to close down.” During an auction at APMC, there is a gathering of at least 1,200 farmers, traders and APMC staffers. “We have been asking them to not form a large crowd, but nobody listens,” said Patel.

Farmers who came to the market said this was the peak season for selling the harvested crop. “This is peak time to sell our produce. We usually harvest our crop and bring it directly to the APMC,” said Manohar Vaghela who had got a tractor full of wheat to the market on Saturday.

Regarding farmers who are yet to visit the APMC, Patel said, “They will have to either wait till the market reopens or sell it directly to the mill owners. They can also store harvested crop in their homes.” Sagar Rabari of Gujarat-based Khedut Ekta Manch said that some APMCs have been circulating notices of closure on social media since Friday evening. “Though coronavirus is a serious matter, the decision to close down APMCs will affect farmers adversely,” said Rabari.

Harshidaben Raval from Rangpur village in Viramgam grows tomatoes, cotton, wheat and castor in 50 bighas of land. She said, “We would get Rs 150-200 per crate (quintal) of tomatoes, and now we get Rs 24-30 because nobody is picking up the produce”. Chanchalben Vaniya, farm labourer from Chekhla village in Sanand, said, “Because of the virus scare, nobody is picking up the vegetables so we are forced to sell them here. The APMC at Sanand is closed. Now, if they tell us to go to Jamalpur, how will we afford the transport charges?”

The APMCs in Ahmedabad and Unjha are among those shutting down. While the APMC in Vasna in Ahmedabad will shut down for 11 days, the one in Jamalpur, which is a key centre for vegetables and fruits, will shut down only for two days.

“We have not instructed the APMCs to close down. They are doing it own their own. We are keeping an eye on the situation as the closing down of the APMCs could lead to a short supply of fruits, vegetables and foodgrains. We don’t want any disruption in the supply chain to happen. A shortage in supply of essentials is not desirable,” said Manish Bharadwaj, Secretary, state Agriculture department. He said the APMC at Unjha in North Gujarat, which procures cumin, will be shut for six days as “it employs a high number of labourers from Rajasthan”. The IAS officer said that the Jamalpur APMC in Ahmedabad will reopen on Monday depending on the circumstances.

“This is a key season for selling three wheat, gram and cumin (jeera). While most of the harvested gram has been sold, a lot of wheat and cumin is yet to make it to the APMCs. The government is yet to begin its procurement based on MSP (Minimum Sup-port Price). The last date of registration of farmers for this purpose is March 30. Now with APMCs deciding to close, there is a question mark on the procurement by the government,” Rabari added.

According to Reema Nanavaty, executive director of Self-Employed Women’s Association, vegetable growers in villages of Kheda, Anand, Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar and Mehsana have suffered the most as sorties to the APMC have reduced because of the virus scare. “This is also peak season for vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes and cabbage. The income for the smaller farmers has gone down from Rs 2,500 to Rs 500 a day, since the sorties to the market have gone down from four in a day to one. Tomatoes for instance they have to sell at Re 1/kg or throw it on the streets.”

In Surat and Vadodara city markets, however, the situation is quite contrary where vegetabl-es in the local market saw a price surge. Sources said that the APMC had set up a platform where farmers from Surat and its neighbouring districts could sell their produce to the merchants or commission agents or to the retail sellers, on a mutual fixed rate.

As per APMC data, the prices of vegetables in the past three days had shot up. The price of potatoes in the market yard shot up from Rs 15 on March 18 to Rs 30 per kilogram on March 20, onion prices shot up from Rs 20 to Rs 40 in the same period and tomato prices shot up from Rs 20 to Rs 40.

Surat APMC Chairman Raman Jani said, “The role of APMC is to provide a platform to the farmers and retailers. We are not into fixing prices of the produce brought by the farmers, it is done between them only. The reason behind the hike in prices depends on the quality and demand in the market. We also have got farmers coming from neighbouring state of Maharashtra daily to sell their produce.”

Potato and Onion Commission Agent at APMC, Keshav Patel, said, “We purchase potatoes and onions in bulk from the farmers coming from Maha-rashtra, and a few from Gujarat and sell it to local traders, keeping our commission percentage and later sell it to the traders. The commission percentage depends on market demand. We sell it to traders and also to the hawkers.”

The Sayajipura APMC market for vegetables and spices in Vadodara, saw a surge in both the supply at the APMC from the farmers and sale of the vegetables since Friday. The APMC will remain closed on Sunday.

As per APMC inspector, Pushparajsinh Gohil, the stock coming in has been higher than usual and sale has been quick. “Since morning, today (Satur-day), 8,300 quintals vegetable arrived till 9 am. Fresh stock of vegetables will arrive again in the afternoon. The vegetable stock is cleared out almost as soon as it arrives. Most of the traders are buying the stock in higher quantities in view of the curfew,” Similar scenarios played out at the Padra APMC market for vegetables as well.

The wholesale market for vegetables sees farmers from Vadodara and nearby districts, like Chhota Udepur and Bharuch, and outstation cities like Nashik and from nearby districts in Madhya Pradesh. Gohil claims that since vegetables are perishable, closing the APMC for a longer period is not a viable option. “For tomorrow, we will be a part of the curfew but will resume operations from Monday. Many farmers were misinformed and they feared that there will be a lockdown for the next eight days, which is why the footfall has increased. The prices have shot up for the same reason. But we will resume operations from Monday,” Gohil added.

While farmers fear that vegetables will perish if a lockdown is imposed, they are yet to face any consequences, they claim. “The prices have shot up by at least Rs 5 per kg for most of the vegetables at the mandis and even at small markets. For the past two days, we have seen a lot of farmers visiting the mandi to clear their stock,” said Jaydip Jadav, a farmer from Khanderaopura in Padra.

The other APMCs that have decided to stop operations for “differing time periods next week” are those at Mahuva, Upleta, Dhoraji, Dhanera, Gondal, Mehsana, Rajkot and Kodinar.

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