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Big mart dream spurs debate

Farmers, economists differ on funds
HOW PRICES CHANGE
  Potato
(Rs/kg)
Litchi
(Rs/100 pieces)
Cauliflower
(Rs/piece)
Farmer sells to middleman at 5 40 5
Middleman sells to wholesaler at 10 60 10
Wholesaler sells to retailer at 12-14 50 12-14
Consumer purchases at 15-17 100* 14-18**
*Rate offered by Mumbai firm
**Cauliflower rates are of 2011; crop not ready yet for 2012
Rates based on information provided by growers and local market

Patna, Sept. 16: Farmers in Bihar have set their sights on foreign funds for a change in their fortune though economists have cast a doubt on it.

Ask Nitish Kumar, a farmer of Darveshpura village in Nalanda district, who hogged the limelight a couple of months ago with record production of potatoes.

Nitish had no one by his side when he was forced to go for distress sale of the same potato, which had earned him laurels, at Warsaliganj market in neighbouring Nawada district. “I need capital for next round of harvest. I was also saddened to learn when the middleman who purchased my product sold the potatoes at double the price he had paid to me,” Nitish told The Telegraph over phone — the jubilance in his voice has turned feeble in some months.

Friday’s FDI decision had a roller-coaster effect on Nitish, who stays some 100km southeast of Patna in a nondescript village. His hope of better future proved short-lived when he came to know about the Bihar government’s stand. “Coming of big players would have given us a chance to deal directly with the procurers as such stores buy stuff directly from farmers,” he said.

His answer lies with his famous namesake. The Nitish Kumar government has been opposing the FDI proposal in its present form, claiming that the new system would replace the existing supply chain in which neither consumers nor farmers would benefit.

The government’s stand, however, does not appear to be convincing for a group of farmers from Nayanagar village in Samastipur district, around 120 northeast of Patna. “A group of litchi farmers from our area is supplying produces directly to firms. It has helped the group in two ways — freeing themselves from the clutches of middlemen and ensuring an assured market for the product,” said Sudhanshu Kumar, a member of the group. “The state government talks of agriculture roadmap and rainbow revolution but it is not allowing its farmers to avail the opportunity of having easy access to organised market players who deal with farmers transparently,” he said.

Sugarcane industry minister Awadhesh Kushwaha, who himself has been a progressive farmer, said: “We hope the agriculture roadmap, to be released by President Pranab Mukherjee during his visit in October, would take care of all these aspects.”

But problems are plenty in Bihar. Yashwant Singh, a farmer of Rohtas district, said FDI in retail would help create back-end infrastructure like warehouse and cold storage. Agriculture department sources said the state, at present, has a capacity to store only about 9.5 lakh tonnes of foodgrain against a production of 170 lakh tonnes while it has a preservation capacity of around 13 lakh tonnes of fruits and vegetables in cold storages. On average, the state produces about 40 lakh tonnes of fruits and 140 lakh tonnes of vegetables.

Admitting FDI in retail would help Bihar on the storage front, economist N.K. Choudhary said: “But one cannot expose the farmers to monopolistic capitalists who would start weeding out small players and exploit farmers in the long run. Can anyone guarantee that the new system will not lead to exploitation of farmers?”

Choudhary’s apprehension finds roots in a Bhagalpur farmer, Niraj Sahu. He said banana growers in the region were supplying to one such chain of retail outlet in Jharkhand. But after giving good rate in the first few years, the chain started offering very low price.

Some farmers have another question: will they ever be free from the local middlemen? “It appears that we are destined to play in the hands of middlemen,” said Sanjeev Kumar, a cauliflower grower of Hajipur. “Being a farmer, I have every right to think about the interest of the farming community instead of bothering about the interests of others,” he said.


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