Around 500 vegetable farmers in Burdwan today blocked the Memari-Tarakeswar state highway for an hour by dumping their produce on the road, holding the government responsible for the absence of wholesalers from the market.
The farmers alleged the drop in prices had driven the wholesalers away.
Farmers in villages around Jamalpur grow ribbed gourd (jhinge), lady’s finger (bhindi) and wax gourd (potol). Every day, around 1,000 farmers bring their produce to the market near Sure Kalna station, from where the wholesalers or aggregators — known as phore — pick up the vegetables.
The farmers said that for the past two days, no wholesaler had turned up at the market.
“What will we do with our produce if we can’t sell them?” asked Kaushik Das, a 32-year-old farmer from Karalaghat village who had come to the market around five in the morning.
Soon, more farmers from different villages reached the market, carrying their produce on cycle vans. But the bulk buyers, who take their produce to big markets in Calcutta and elsewhere, were not there.
“The wholesalers are not coming to the market to protest the government’s efforts to forcibly reduce the prices of vegetables. Wholesalers are rich and they can survive, but we can’t,” Das said.
The farmers then dumped their produce on the road and blocked it for an hour. A team from Jamalpur police station persuaded them to lift the blockade.
Even though the protests by the farmers looked spontaneous, Calcutta-based economists said the perceived reason for the wholesalers’ disappearance may not be correct.
The farmers seemed convinced that the aggregators had turned away because of the government vigil on markets after the Mamata Banerjee administration set up a monitoring committee last week.
“It is likely that the wholesalers are again trying to manipulate the market…. They know that a few days’ absence from the farmers’ market will result in a drop in supply in city markets and prices will go up. Besides, they will also gain, as farmers will be selling their produce at a lower price after failing to do so for a few days,” said a Calcutta-based economist who refused to be named.
According to him, wholesalers wield enormous clout in the supply chain of vegetables from the farm to the food plate in the cities and have got used to super-normal profits.
The Telegraph had reported last week how products like ribbed gourd, which farmers were selling at Rs 5-6 a kg, were priced at Rs 40-45 a kg in several Calcutta markets because of profiteering at each transhipment point where the product changed hands. “A vigilant government machinery has ensured that the wholesalers’ profit margins have shrunk. That’s why they are reacting like this,” the economist said.
The farmers at Jamalpur, however, were not aware of the alleged shenanigans of the aggregators as they said the wholesalers were not responsible for the recent spike in prices.
“The middlemen are responsible for the hike…. The wholesalers are playing it safe as they have realised that the government is targeting them. That’s why we can’t sell our produce,” a farmer said.
However, in an imperfect market, even a wholesaler or an aggregator can behave like a middleman by extracting margins and pushing up prices.