Everybody loves a good drought of middlemen at the ‘Uzhuvar Santhai’

Farmers being taken for a ride by middlemen is an evergreen story in a country where every second MLA and MP claims to be an “agriculturist”, and where everybody loves to bullshit about ‘Jai Kisan’.

In his new book ‘Voices from the Grassroots’, Dr R. Balasubramaniam of the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement writes of tribals on the banks of the Kabini river in Karnataka attempting to grow a crop that marauding elephants were not used to and hence wouldn’t damage.

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“We decided on cabbage and cultivated on more than 20 acres of land. As we neared the harvest, I went to Mysore to enquire about the market prices.

“The cost of one kilogram of cabbage in the market was around Rs 6.

“We harvested nearly three tons of the crop and started dreaming of the money that the tribals could get even if they sold their produce at Rs 4 per kilogram.

“At the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) yard, where the vegetables could be sold, we could only sell the crop to one agent who specialised in buying cabbage.

“The cabbage agent was determined not to give us more than 30 paise per kilogram when the retail price was Rs 6 per kilogram. The tribals were disappointed. Some wanted to dump the crop by the wayside and return.

“The more benevolent of the felt that they could simply donate the vegetables to an orphanage or an old-age home and come back. Finally we decided to sell the vegetables at the agent’s price with the hope that it would at least cover the cost of diesel that was used to transport the crop.”

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In other words, the gap between farm and fork is large, and most of us rarely pause to ponder as to who is raking in the moolah when we enter our PIN number at a Tata, Birla, Ambani, Biyani or Lulu “hypermarket”.

The late Tamil Nadu chief M. Karunanidhi actually did and his DMK government came up with the concept of ‘Uzhuvar Santhai’ (farmers’ market), where the growers could directly sell their produce without a middleman or rich woman fleecing them.

As it happens in ‘Petty Naad’, Jayalalitha scrapped the idea when the AIADMK came to power. The DMK brought them back when they returned. When AIADMK strode back to power again, Jayalalitha realised this was too good an idea to dump, and retained them.

These were the faces of women, all wrapped up, who were selling their produce at the ‘Uzhuvar Santhai’ in Ooty two mornings ago.