The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown immense challenges for the agriculture sector in India. One key challenge is farmers getting competitive and timely remunerative prices for their agricultural or horticulture produce sold in the regulated markets. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has reported the case of Kiran Khalkho, a marginal farmer of Chitarkota village in Ranchi District, Jharkhand. During the pandemic and for the first time from the farm gate, she was able to sell 15 quintals of watermelon through the e-National Agricultural Market (e-NAM) portal with the assistance of the Pandra Market Committee. Online auctioning on the portal led to purchase of her produce at Rs 8 per kilogram by the “All Season Farm Fresh Company” based at Golmuri, Jamshedpur. This transaction fetched her an income of Rs 12,000 and the payment for her produce was deposited directly into her bank account through the e-payment gateway.
There are more than one crore farmers and one lakh traders registered on e-NAM across 18 states and three Union Territories in one thousand regulated markets. Farmers like Kiran Khalkho across the country are reaping the benefits of a transparent price discovery through the e-NAM portal. Interestingly,e-NAM is a virtual market but has a physical market at the backend. Its guidelines stipulate that while one-time registration of farmers, gate-entry, weighment, assaying (quality assessment), auction and payments are online, actual material flow happens physically through the regulated market. It also entails removal of cumbersome licensing barriers across the state. Besides, entire arrivals of agricultural commodities selected for trading on e-NAM are traded on-line only.
Experts have pointed out a few issues that need to be addressed to strengthen e-NAM to protect the interests of small and marginal farmers. First, the sale of farmers’ crop in the regulated market through licensed commission agents is a competition limiting entry barrier. Second, the need to fine-tune the assaying infrastructure in regulated markets to conduct effective tests of agriculture produce. Third, making the transport logistics seamless for the transacted agricultural commodity between the seller and buyer. Fourth, the dire need to further empower farmers in the catchment of e-NAM market areas through information, education and communication activities.
The Indian government has taken several measures in this regard. With an aim to harness the collective strength of small and marginal farmers, more than 800 registered Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) have been brought onboard e-NAM and allowed to trade online from the farm gate directly. Similarly, farmers have also been allowed to directly trade on e-NAM from registered warehouses where their produce is stored (including availing pledge loans). Third party quality assayers have been allowed to be engaged by the state marketing boards for notified e-NAM markets to ensure time-bound results. Further, to facilitate seamless agri-logistics on e-NAM, a pan India transportation platform has been launched with participation of more than 10 private aggregators such as Blackbuck, Rivigo, Truck Suvidha, Elastic Run etc.
Experts also highlight the issue of restricting trade to farmers and traders registered with the concerned e-NAM regulated markets. This, they say, inhibits actual intra-market and inter-State trade. Recently, the Centre allowed the seamless interoperability of e-NAM with Karnataka’s Rashtriya e-Market Services Private Limited (ReMS), an agricultural marketing platform of the Karnataka Government. This initiative will help farmers of Karnataka to sell their produce online to a large number of e-NAM traders and even farmers from other e-NAM mandis to sell their produce to Karnataka traders registered on ReMS.
The objective of e-NAM ultimately is two-fold: One, integrate markets at the state level and eventually across the country through a common online market platform. Second, contribute to marketing efficiency by providing farmers online access to more buyers and markets. The Doubling Farmers Income (DFI) Committee Report, 2017 also observes that to achieve the vision of a full-fledged national agricultural market, we have to aim at having an interoperable electronic architecture that would let as many markets and as many models of markets as possible to bloom under different ownership types.
In the future, e-NAM, thus, has to be strengthened to become a focal point around which other agricultural produce marketing electronic platforms enable multiple stakeholders to connect and benefit. Such a robust ecosystem will cover the entire agricultural value chain ranging from activities of inputs, sowing and production in the pre- harvest stage; processing, packaging, storage, distribution, trading and end markets outreach at the post-harvest stage. Market intelligence and price information dissemination is nevertheless critical all along the value chain.
There are private sector online platforms like AgriBazaar that provide buying and selling services for the entire agricultural value chain. Online platforms such as Farmkart, Agricolos, Khetgaadi provide input services, precision services, agri-rental services, respectively. Third party assaying and warehousing services are provided by platforms such as Intello Labs and Godamvale. Kisanmandi.com provide access to market intelligence including price information. There are also state government online platforms such as e-Kharid of the Haryana government. We have also heard of institutional buyers such as Big Basket etc. There are also e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart, e-Bay etc. The key issue will be to leverage the features and capabilities of such online platforms and create a win-win solution for e-NAM both in terms of value and volume.
Finally, there is a dire need to provide a fillip to awareness generation and seek feedback from small and marginal farmers in the catchment market areas of e-NAM. This should be institutionally done in a sustained manner under the leadership of District Magistrates, Collectors and Deputy Commissioners through the vast network of Krishi Vigyan Kendra’s (KVKs) in the community blocks of districts. This is critical for enabling marginal farmers like Kiran Khalkho from Ranchi to integrate digital technology and online platforms into their marketing practices while we strive to create a common e-market platform for agriculture produce.
(The writer is an Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of India. Views expressed are personal)