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The MSP-APMC Conundrum: Mandis Are No Friendly Places For Farmers

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Marketing is the last and perhaps the most crucial phase of the farming process. The tragedy, however, lies in the fact that cultivators incur maximum losses in this phase despite getting a good harvest with minimal post-harvest losses. It is not the rigorous physical hardships associated with farming that kills them; it is the insensitivity of the markets that urges them to commit suicide.

Farmer walking in the field
It is not the rigorous physical hardships associated with farming that kills them; it is the insensitivity of the markets that urges them to commit suicide. Representational image.

After completing 90% of the agricultural cycle, from soil preparation till harvest, if cultivators are fortunate enough to have a good produce, they are left with two options, either to sell their produce in APMC-regulated mandis or get their produce directly procured by the government agencies at Minimum Support Price announced periodically by the government. Although the objective behind establishing Agricultural Produce Market Committee was, inter alia, to safeguard farmers from exploitation by large retailers, it has failed in its core objective.

There are many challenges faced by farmers due to the restrictions imposed by the APMC Act. The APMC Act empowers the state government to demarcate geographical regions into various ‘notified market areas’, which have to be headed by a market committee, comprising traders and farmers, among others. The act enacted by state governments simply makes it unlawful to purchase, sale, storage and processing outside the market yard. This is the biggest flaw which has made this model monopolistic, obviously against the interests of the farmers. APMCs have made the market highly controlled, which is why multiple levels of intermediaries have emerged.

The APMC Act treats APMC as an arm of the state and the market fee as the tax levied by the state. Apart from this, there are other formal and informal taxes/charges/fees that are collected from the whole range of functionaries, including traders, commissioning agents, warehousing agents, loading agents, etc. All of these levies eventually add up to hefty amounts and are primarily incurred by farmers.

Rajabhau Rambhau Sultani, a farmer from Buldhana district of Maharashtra, sold 7 quintals of jowar at ₹1,423 per quintal, while the MSP announced by the government for that season was ₹2,550 per quintal. Upon asking, he explained journalist Prabhudatta Mishra that he had to pay fees like hamali (labour charges for loading/unloading), taulai (weighing cost) along with other mandatory charges and fees in the mandi. Levies may vary across states, but the situation of cultivators is more or less same.

Despite all this, what bothers farmers more is the apathetic attitude and avariciousness of traders and agents. Cartelization in mandis is common, which prevents remunerative price discovery. Some traders arbitrarily deduct some amount from the payment while some delay entire payment for many days.

To avoid tax, some traders don’t give sale slips to farmers. In such cases, it is difficult for the farmer to prove their income to seek credit from banks. Since a significant portion of their payments goes in the pockets of middlemen, traders and elsewhere, they end up receiving only 20–30% of the final consumer price.

It is to be noted that the nearest APMC mandi from a farm gate is 10–15 km far, or more, on an average. Now, the question arises if the entire APMC system is in and out exploitative to farmers, why do they travel all the way to mandis despite having government agencies in the vicinity where their harvest is procured at much higher at MSP?

According to Shanta Kumar Committee Report, only 6% of farmers receive MSP, while the remaining 94% is dependent on the markets. Clearly, the MSP regime has its own flaws, maybe even more than APMC markets. It sets up a floor price to a commodity which gives a minimum price below which it can’t be purchased from farmers. Although it has prevented farmers against price volatility, it also has a large chunk of shortcomings.

Currently, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), responsible for fixing the MSP in the country, analyses many factors while determining the MSP, including the cost of cultivation per hectare, cost of production per quintal, input prices, market prices of products, supply and demand related information, international market prices, prices of derivatives, etc.

Swaminathan committee talked about the cost of farming at three levels, namely: A2 that included all types of cash expenditure; FL that included estimated cost of work to the total members of the farmer’s family; and C2 which consists of estimated land rent and the cost of interest on the money taken for farming. CACP, on the other hand, adds both A2 and FL but not C2. Farmers argue that they should be given MSP after taking C2 into account. This creates a huge difference between the MSP sought by farmers and the MSP given by the government.

However, this point doesn’t explain why just 6% of farmers receive MSP, and most of the produce is sold in APMC markets at loss. This is explained by the fact that cultivators don’t receive instant payment under MSP no matter what the amount is. It usually takes weeks and months to get payment credited in their account. Payment immediacy compels most of the farmers to sell grains outside the MSP system.  

Farmers are growing paddy even in those regions which are not suitable for paddy cultivation.
Farmers are growing paddy even in those regions which are not suitable for paddy cultivation.

Another major shortcoming lies in the fact that the regime doesn’t cover all crops, which means that all farmers don’t have access to it. Also, procurement operations for paddy and wheat vary across states and suffer from infrastructural barriers. 

Moreover, the MSP regime has led to mono-cropping practice, i.e. overproduction of paddy and wheat. It has not only created the problem of extra stocks but also gave rise to other disastrous effects. Farmers are growing paddy even in those regions which are not suitable for paddy cultivation.

It is now clear why there exists an imbalance between MSP regime and APMC markets, and why farmers are eventually incurring losses at both the ends. Considering the perturbing situation of the primary sector at a time when the ongoing pandemic crisis has already disturbed the entire supply chain, sincere reforms (to be discussed in next part) are needed from the government’s end to solve MSP-APMC conundrum.

Part I to this series can be found here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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