[email protected]: A sea-change in how farmers sell

Despite its several detractors who had criticised the concept of connecting primary markets through an online platform, eNAM, at four (as on April 14), is going strong.

The e-platform, with 585 connected mandis across 16 States and two Union Territories, and 1.7 crore farmers and 1.3 lakh traders on board, is all set to add another 415 mandis to its fold this year.

The mandis across the country stand testimony to the benefits of eNAM. The 70 mandis in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are a case in point as, end to end, they have moved all operations on to eNAM. Farmers in the Nizamabad and Suryapet mandis are among those happy about the changes ushered in by eNAM — such as curbing trade cartels, transparency in auction and weighment, and immediate settlement of payment. Though these farmers often have to travel 30-40 km to the mandi, the better price offered by eNAM is ample compensation.

That said, it is still a challenge to market this idea and push State governments to bring more trade on to the online platform. Bringing all the pieces together for eNAM to succeed continues to be a big task, but the implementing agency — the Small Farmers’ Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC) — and the Agriculture Ministry are out to handle it head on.

Here, we throw light on how the age-old system of trading in the primary market is changing in India with eNAM and the recent measures being taken for making things easier for farmers.

Changes brought in by eNAM

For ages, mandis had a secret bidding system where the farmer didn’t meet the buyer face-to-face. He took his produce to the mandi, sold it to a middlemen at a price fixed by the latter. Some mandis had open auctions, but that didn’t guarantee better realisation for the farmer either, as buyers colluded to fix prices.

Post eNAM, the situation has changed in many market-yards. Every trader at an eNAM mandi in Telangana or AP now logs on to the portal through the mobile app or website and places his bid. The system identifies the highest bid for each lot of the farmer. A trader cannot revise or cancel a bid once submitted, and, given that buyers from even from outside the mandi can place a bid, competition has increased, making price rigging difficult.

In Nizamabad, Telangana, for instance, during the peak arrival season for turmeric in December, there are 10 or 11 bids per lot; that is, multiple potential buyers quoting prices for every lot in the mandi. Among the other advantages for the farmers is accuracy in weighment. In the eNAM-linked mandis, weighing is done on electronic scales that are integrated with the portal through Bluetooth. Earlier, farmers used to lose 2-3 kg a bag because of wrong readings or cheating by agents.

How States can help

State governments have a key role to play in making eNAM a success. For this, they need to shed their reservations about working along with the Centre. They need to engage in talks with traders and commission agents and onboard them on eNAM. Telangana has given a discount on mandi fees to traders who transact on eNAM. A similar move by other States will help.

Further, despite the Centre coming out with the model APLM Act and outlining ways in which the States can reform their primary markets, not many have done it. This is necessary to motivate large corporates such as ITC, Britannia, Nestle, Patanjali and Cargill India to buy directly from farmers and check APMCs from acting like monopolies in the primary markets.

Even after four years of eNAM, none of the large food retailers in the country have registered themselves on the platform. In an interview with BusinessLine, an executive of a food major had said that it has concerns over buying on eNAM directly because of the absence of quality assurance. It is time the State governments used the funds allocated by the Centre to set up eNAM, to provide third-party assaying services. As most quality parameters on grains and pulses can be checked through handheld devices now, the quality testing officers can go to the farm-gate or aggregation point of FPOs and assess them. This will make it easier for farmers to list their produce on eNAM without coming to the mandis.

New logistics module

The Agriculture Ministry has taken massive efforts to provide a network of logistic service providers on eNAM as, over the past few weeks, the absence of trucks to transport farm goods to mandis has posed a challenge. The eNAM portal now features a list of large logistics aggregators. Traders can use the links to navigate to the logistics providers’ websites and use their services.

There are more than 1.9 lakh transporters and over 7 lakh trucks available on eNAM now. Ground level checks indicate these truckers are willing to provide the requisite services. The farmers have been asking for more pick-up points and lower minimum load threshold (which the truckers would agree to carry). Also, there should be a reference price for rates on the website to ensure trucker don’t charge exorbitantly, farmers point out.

The Agriculture Ministry and SFAC have begun work to set up a national call centre and a logistics app (with the support of NIC) to help out the farmers.

The expectation is that when eNAM turns five, there will be several more happy farmers across India.