A Three-Pronged Strategy For Delhi!
This writer was asked to give free vent to his thoughts on transforming the eco-system for the distribution of fruits and vegetables in the National Capital Territory in the short, medium and long run at a meeting convened by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit who is keen to ensure that the citizens of Delhi get access to safe and healthy food, with in- built features for traceability. She also wanted suggestions on making fruits, vegetables and dairy products more accessible and affordable for the sizeable student population in Delhi, besides, of course, working-class population and residents of JJ clusters.
In a way, this was a dream come true for me, as I have been actively engaged in the dialogue on reforms in agricultural marketing , and a strong advocate of changing the present system of licensees in APMC markets with that of registered buyers and sellers, where transactions are recorded, quality parameters clearly laid down and market spaces used as arenas for display and electronic auctions rather than as godowns to hoard stocks and dispose them of with the highest possible trade margins . This calls for leveraging existing resources, identifying new opportunities, and avoiding direct confrontation with the extant supply chain.
The first of the three suggestions was to treat each of the three-hundred-odd outlets of Safal (Mother Dairy’s fruit and vegetable initiative) as a ‘hub’ for the distribution of fruits and vegetables in the area. Each of these hubs could be used to extend the reach by extending the supply chain through modern vending carts, (including motorised vending carts), thereby ensuring that the consumers get better value for their money. Existing vendors—both static and mobile—could also be linked to these ‘hubs’. Once the forward integration of the supply chain was organised, it would be easy for the Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC) to link supplies with the production clusters through the farmer producer organisations, which are being actively encouraged in peri-urban areas under the Vegetable Initiative for Urban Clusters—a special component of the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana. Given the volumes in Delhi, it is possible to get produce from anywhere in the country—kiwis from Arunachal, apples from Kashmir, pineapples from Tripura and tender coconuts from Kerala! The CM was informed that the first consignment of kiwis from Arunachal was being airlifted to Delhi to compete with kiwis from NZ itself! She wanted SFAC and Safal to take up the challenge of ensuring a direct link between large institutional buyers and the primary producers . This would also ensure traceability : and should there be excessive fertilizer/pesticide use in the fruits and vegetables, remedial and corrective action could be taken.
The second point was with regard to the establishment of a new terminal market in Delhi—both to decongest the Azadpur Mandi—as also to showcase an agricultural market with absolute transparency in transactions. This was a terminal market with a difference in that it would have ‘open membership’ for producers, intermediaries, wholesalers, retailers. In other words, anyone and everyone was welcome to get the produce, have it weighed, graded , and certified for quality and put up for auction to whoever was interested. The produce would be released only on release of payment, or a promissory note backed by a bank guarantee. Not just Mother Dairy, but any wholesaler or retailer could participate in the auction. Over time, the physical presence of the buyer at the auction could also be dispensed with by establishing robust video links . Thus a wholesaler or even a large retailer could take a look at the fresh arrivals in the terminal market from his shop in Khan Market or Chanakyapuri or Okhla—and call for deliveries. Unlike the existing APMC markets where each merchant had a shop, a godown and an auction space, this market would only have large electronic auction halls, warehousing facility, including Controlled Atmosphere and Modified Atmosphere, several banks and ATMs, testing centres for inspection of quality of produce and offices of logistics providers, besides of course facilities for the entire range of commercial vehicles—Punjab body trucks to three-wheelers. Thus it was to be positioned more as a logistics hub with several independent service providers, each offering specialised services ranging from weighments to quality tests, traceability, packaging into wholesale/retail formats and dispatch to the final sale points. This was something to be looked at in the medium term.
Last but not least was the reform of the Azadpur Mandi itself. This was important because as one of the largest vegetable markets in Asia, it had to take the leadership position—not just in terms of market share, but also in adopting technologies that were friendly to all the stakeholders. This writer feels that traders should get together and create an Azadpur Vegetable Exchange by monetising their traditional and hereditary rights to trade in this market. The primary responsibility of this exchange would also be the conduct of auctions—but they could restrict the auction among their own members. This also afforded the existing traders to convert their profile from being just intermediaries to providing value-added services for their stakeholders—the farmers who supplied them the produce, and the wholesalers who linked them to the consumers. All members of this exchange would be encouraged to establish warehouses, cold stores and ripening chambers closer to the production centres so that they were assured of quality produce, besides some predictability about prices. In fact, some enterprising traders had already taken the lead in establishing a value chain for the commodities in their domain—especially in apples, onions and potato. This would enable the intermediaries bring some ‘predictability’ in the system, thereby ensuring a virtuous cycle.
The column ends on this very positive note, and I hope that the three-pronged strategy works, and paves the way for other states to follow suit.
By Sanjeev Chopra
(An IAS Officer, the author is Joint Secretary & Mission Director, National Horticulture Mission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)