States should do their bit: Agriculture Secretary

‘Those which have actively taken up eNAM have seen success’

In a candid talk with BusinessLine, Agriculture Secretary Shobhana K Pattanayak throws light on the various challenges before the agri-marketing reform process. He explains the initiatives taken to push forward eNAM, and answers questions on why and how the implementation of eNAM is being done the way it is. Excerpts:

This year, the Centre has set a target of connecting 200 more mandis to eNAM. Will you choose the mandis or will the States decide, like how it was done for the 585 markets already under eNAM?

The Agriculture Department has given the States guidelines on how they should pick the mandis, giving preference to those that have high trade volumes. But the States’ decision is driven by factors including connectivity, willingness of the mandi parishad to do trade on the electronic platform and awareness of farmers.

A total of 585 from among the 2,500 major APMCs (Agriculrural Produce Market Committees) in the country is a good number, but since many of these mandis are small, eNAM is not able to show any achievement in trade volume...

You are right. Our efforts, from here on, will be to link markets that deal with high volumes of trade.

What initiatives are you taking to improve trade volume on eNAM?

With the eNAM platform, our idea was to not just link mandis across the country, but also connect all functional standalone entities such as warehouses. We are now working on the latter aspect. A warehouse is a mini marketplace, and once it gets connected to eNAM, farmers in and around it can draw a lot of benefits. We are also trying to bring FPOs (Farmer Producer Organisations) to trade on the eNAM platform; close to 174 FPOs have already been linked.

We will consider only 600 warehouses that are WDRA-(Warehousing Development and Regulatory Authority)-compliant. Even if just these 600 warehouses are linked, it will help farmers. India has a total of about 165 million tonnes of warehousing capacity. If at least all the warehouses under the State Warehousing Corporations become WDRA-compliant, it will boost storage capacities, and we can bring all of them under eNAM.

Today, the warehousing facility within the mandis itself is poor. If the farmer has to wait to get the right price, or for the produce to be assayed, before he disposes the stock, there should be warehousing facilities inside mandis. Are States investing in building warehouses?

That’s an interesting question. Logically speaking, a warehouse facility should be there within the mandi. Many mandis have godowns today; but considering the changing needs and types of commodity mix, it is not enough to have just plain warehouses. There should be scientific warehouses where temperature and environment can be controlled.

Along with distributing funds to set up assaying infrastructure (₹70 lakh for each eNAM mandi), we also now support creation of other infrastructure at mandis.

The government has created an agri-market infrastructure fund with a corpus of ₹2,000 crore. Any State interested in improving the infrastructure of its mandis can dip into this fund.

Have there been studies that have shown a positive correlation between price and quality? Prices at mandis are determined by the demand-supply situation, isn’t it? Isn’t it, therefore, necessary to study the price-value correlation in different commodities, and then invest in assaying infrastructure?

What you say is right, but not completely. During the peak arrival season, there are chances that prices drop and quality doesn’t matter much. But this trend is only in the initial few days of arrival. Mid-season, say, after a month or so, sorting and grading matters. So we need to create assaying facilities at all mandis. We are trying to bring advanced equipment, and have tied -up with a few companies for this.

The building and running of the eNAM platform has been outsourced to a private player on a fixed-fee basis, unlike the transaction fee model in UMP (Unified Market Platform) of ReMS (Rashtriya eMarket Services). Wouldn’t it have been better to have a transaction fee model for eNAM, too?

In a transaction-fee model, farmers are not happy. Farmers in Karnataka have got the benefit of the electronic platform; but if you ask them, they are very unhappy about paying a fee to trade on the platform and that fee is going to some private player. But this aside, the important issue here is: to what extent should we be hand-holding farmers and other stakeholders in the entire process. We expect a change to come in the way business is done at mandis, and it should be a voluntary process. State governments should do their bit. States which have actively taken up eNAM implementation, such as Telangana and Chhattisgarh, have seen success.

What future do you envisage for eNAM?

In the initial years, we had many problems, beginning with poor internet connectivity; but now, we have overcome most of that. Now, it is about the degree to which people adapt to this system. Assaying is now being done in 85 per cent of the markets, but it is not perfect yet.

We will soon reach a state where we will assay all key commodities and be able to segregate the good from the bad, and the good produce will get a better price.

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