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Weekly Markets

Do farmers’ markets in cities really benefit farmers?

The recent proliferation of weekly farmers’ markets in urban areas is quite useful for consumers but their benefits to farmers are limited at best and cannot replace the practice of selling at wholesale yards
People find it convenient to buy vegetables at the weekly farmers’ markets in Pune. (Photo by Ajit Kanitkar)

People find it convenient to buy vegetables at the weekly farmers’ markets in Pune. (Photo by Ajit Kanitkar)

In the Indian context, any discussion around marketing agricultural produce of farmers begins with depressing statistics. It tells us of loss of so many thousand tons of fresh produce rotten and wasted in the post-production and post-harvest cycle. It is then argued that the country needs to invest heavily in post-production infrastructure and ensure reforms in the marketing of agricultural produce so that farmers have options to sell outside the existing channels of agricultural produce marketing committees (APMC), popularly known as mandis.

Some experts even go a step further in arguing that farmers should actually time their produce and produce what the market wants. They propagate dreams such as from farm to the fork or plough to plate. While these are important macro-economic discussions, a small experiment is underway in Pune for the past one year. These are weekly farmers’ markets that are now catching the attention of the current and aspiring political class too, besides getting increased patronage from both farmers and urban consumers.

To a rural citizen, this urban phenomenon of a weekly market might not sound interesting at all. There are thousands of weekly markets, popularly known as rural haats, which are organized in each and every corner of the country. A weekly haat offers time and space to hundreds of small and marginal farmers and other small and micro-enterprises to market their agricultural produce week after week. The place and time is pre-determined. Some of the hawkers move from one day to another day to market their produce. The same concept seems to be catching up in cities such as Pune.

Greater options

For urban consumers, the weekly farmers’ markets are one more source for procuring their daily stock of vegetables. This is not to say that this is not useful. If one looks at the growing urban market in cities like Pune, a recent phenomenon that is happening is that many of the traditional grocery stores have slowly expanded their physical space and also their service offerings. So typically, a grocery shop such as a Mahalakshmi or a Hanuman store (also called as kirana shop in the local language) now have vegetables displayed for sale at the entrance of the shop.

The traditional mobile vending carts are probably on the decline at least in the middle and high-income localities of the city. These are now replaced by permanent vegetable vendors — often on encroached footpaths and walkways — that sell their stuff in the evenings. A new addition to these options is mobile vegetable shops. A small vehicle is parked at a busy junction on major roads, the vehicle dubbing up as a mobile shop containing assorted fruits and vegetables. In the above scenario, a weekly farmers market is one more option for the urban consumer.

Typical weekly market

The weekly markets are organized in the residential areas, preferably in an open plot of land. The market is located in an open and vacant plot either of the corporation and or of the housing society or a public minded citizen agreeing to make available the land for a nominal rent. The arrangement is mutually convenient since the market functions just for a day of the week and that too for a few hours in the morning. The associated hassles for land-related arrangements are nominal.

The market does not have any infrastructure except a vacant piece of land in the midst of densely populated area of the city typically having a number of residential apartments. On Sundays, a group of 50 to 60n farmers from neighboring villages and some as far as 50 km bring their produce. Most of these farmers have their own transport vehicles that they use for bringing the vegetables.

The produce is displayed under a makeshift structure created for the purpose. The market starts around 8 am and gets over by noon. Mostly fresh and seasonal vegetables are available. Some farmer groups have also started bringing fruits and selling some processed produce such jowar and bajra flour. Depending on the location of the market, about 400 to 500 customers are estimated to be visiting the weekly market.

Direct marketing

These markets offer vegetables that are directly brought to the market from the field. The weekly market also offers consumers options to buy many seasonal vegetables at their doorsteps. In terms of prices, since there are other competing vending outlets, some even close to 10 meters in the vicinity of the weekly farmers markets, the prices are competitive.

The weekly farmers’ markets are also seen as good publicity for local politicians. (Photo by Ajit Kanitkar)

The weekly farmers’ markets are also seen as good publicity for local politicians. (Photo by Ajit Kanitkar)

Another advantage that I see is that such markets for the first time offer a possibility to an urban consumer to see the face of the farmer. Here one encounters a farmer and sometimes even his family members who have accompanied the famer directly selling his produce. I have seen some conversations happening after the transactions are over.

Last but not the least, local political leaders see this as a good opportunity to score some brownie points. For them, it is a useful event to tell their constituency that they are doing something for them as also for the farmers. I have seen many posters and huge display of hoardings where even the ministers are invited for the inauguration of the weekly markets.

Do these markets work for farmers?

These markets are weekly and hence while offering a certainty to consumers for a predefined day for the market (usually Sundays), they do not offer flexibility to farmers. In other words, these markets cannot and will not take care of all the farm produce that a group of farmers will have. The farming system in our country is not that organized that farmers will plant vegetables in such a manner that these are ready only for such a market on a Sunday. A weekly market cannot substitute a well-functioning APMC market. However, it is one more option for farmers.

The weekly markets are also uncertain in terms of its place since the place is usually made available on the basis of the goodwill of the locally elected politician or a social worker. The same place need not be available if the owner of the place so decides.

During days of rains (at least 15 to 30 days in a three-month cycle), the place cannot be used, as it does not have any permanent fixed infrastructure such as raised platform and or a shed. Most of the open spaces in the city in the last two months were inundated with water during the monsoon and thus unsuitable for holding a market.

The most important limitation, however, is the scale of operations of such weekly markets. Our estimate is that as of now, there will be at most about 20 such weekly markets (this number is also on the higher side) in different localities of Pune city. For a population of over 6 million and each weekly market accommodating just about 30 to 50 farmers at the most, the weekly market is not really an option to other existing channels of sales be it APMC and or other decentralized new vending systems that are propping up in all parts of the city.

Even assuming that similar operations begin to scale up, Pune might need close to 500 such weekly markets across all parts of the city to cater to the growing middle class market. Even after assuming that so many weekly markets do come up, those can offer outlet for not more than 25,000 farmers at best.

Here again, one is assuming that all farmers have the means of transport at their disposal to bring their produce to the cities. A weekly market by its design will accommodate limited participation of both consumers and farmers. Thus, while it is a useful intervention if seen from the perspective of an urban consumer, it is sorely inadequate if seen as a farmer.

Ajit Kanitkar is a Consultant for Tata Education and Development Trust and a Member of the research team at Centre for Development and Research in Pune. Prior to this, he was Program Officer at Ford Foundation, India office, and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, both in New Delhi. He taught at Institute of Rural Management, Anand, during 1992-1995.

Views are personal.

Ajit Kanitkar
Ajit Kanitkar
Ajit Kanitkar is a Consultant for Tata Education and Development Trust and a Member of the research team at Centre for Development and Research in Pune. Prior to this, he was Program Officer at Ford Foundation, India office, and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, both in New Delhi. He taught at Institute of Rural Management, Anand, during 1992-1995.

6 Comments

  1. Jose Sebastian says:

    A very interesting piece. This is an emerging possibility and a win-win situation as both consumers and farmers are benefited with share of the middle men being shared between these two. I would like to add from Kerala experience. My cousin who lives in some 30 Km from Kozhikkode city cultivates bitter gourd . He and a few friends of his together hire a jeep load of bitter gourd and takes it to Kozhikkode market and sells it almost similar lines. Here the availability of mobile phone greately benefits them. He told me that their group communicates with similar groups elsewhere so that there is no flooding of product which dampens the price. Bitter gourd cannot be kept for many days(the option of dried bitter gourd is there but my cousin says it has serious problems of viability). Bitter gourd is harvested on a weekly basis and it seems the communication-collusion model ensures a somewhat remunerative price. The use of communication technology by fisherfolk is well known in Kerala. Fish is sold in the sea itself based on the going market condition communicated over mobile phone!. Dr. Kanitkar may explore this in Pune.

    I think, from the public policy point of view, the govertment should put in place permanent/ semi-permanent sheds so that it becomes institutionalised. Then there is the increasing preference for organic vegetables and fruits. can there be separate haat for these? The value added here is higher but there should be some mechanism for differentiating between organic from the other. A good piece with lot of leaning value!!

  2. Amar Nawkar says:

    Very nice set of observations.

    In navi Mumbai though, the later model where inmigrant rajasthani shopkeepers provide space for sales of vegetable is seen increasingly. In one of the project in Raigad district, we asked farmers if they would send their produce of bitterguard to APMC (or any other place) on a weekly basis. The economincs of that transaction was feasible on a repeat and longer run – it made no sense as one time transaction. The response was not conclusive as they wanted the middle men to bear such expenses. Expenses which will break even over period of time. So the farm to fork did not work for that group of farmers (merely 30 km away from Panvel). On the contrary, in this season, I experienced another scenario. A wealthy farmer from Nasik would (1) guess / estimate market rate in Navi mumbai (2) refuel his Bolero pick up (3) schedule harvesting of his ‘Gobi’ and rush to squares of each sector in Kamothe / Navi Mumbai. He used to offer competitive price and do his magic trick to fetch money against the regular vendors who have sourced ‘gobi’ from APMC. He came all season , latter incoorporated grape in his cart. This direct marketting strategy shall apear to one as benefitting those farmers who can afford.

  3. Pratisha Borborah says:

    Weekly markets in Assam has a historical significance. Even today cities like Guwahati have weekly markets that bring out the relationships between the hills and the Plains. Many of such markets are held by tribal communities to hold their identity in a multi ethnic city. However, one cannot ignore the fact that the negligence of the government for these markets are affecting the lives of the vendors. The piece was interesting on bringing the question middle class consumers and the future of these markets.

  4. manamohan says:

    During stay in Pune I had chance of visiting weekly vegetable market no of times.i found. 1.it is very convenient to collect from one place.
    2.it benefits consumers n farmers both
    3.mostly ultra fresh veg/fruits
    4.it is cheaper by 20-30%

  5. Malcolm Harper says:

    Thank you Ajit for this interesting note. Here in the UK weekly farmers’ markets are very common, and very popular. They tend to be cheaper than the shops which surround them and to offer fresher and nominally ‘organic’ produce. They tend to serve better off consumers. And, in these impersonal times, they provide an opportunity for a little friendly banter, some bargaining, between the consumer and someone who at least appears to be the producer even if he (or she) is actually a full time trader, going from ‘farmers’ market to market.

    I don’t know how important they are as a market for farmers, or what the eventual margins are after deducting the quite heavy transaction costs, but they are certainly encouraged by many municipalities, and are something of a weekly ‘event’ in many communities.

    I have not observed them in India (I got back from Odisha last night) but I’d suspect that they are a small but important additional market for some farmers, and, maybe more significant, they are a tiny bridge between rural and the urban elite, who seem otherwise to be moving even further apart.

  6. Innus Khan says:

    Thank you sir for bringing insightful observation on weekly vegetable market, Yes, its is cheaper than market for end consumers.