Integrated market concept catching on, but shoppers don’t want fruit and meat stalls under one roof

Business is going full swing at the ‘Uzhavar Sandhai’ (farmers’ market) at 7 a.m. at Bibikulam on a Saturday. People walk in with big cloth bags and scouted around to pick fresh vegetables.

An estimated 7,000 people visit the sandhai daily, according to K. Arumugam, an agricultural officer at the market. “We get nearly 45 tonnes of produce a day,” he says. The farmers’ market, managed by the Agriculture department at Bibikulam, and the Corporation-run Central Market at Mattuthavani have been seeing a steady increase in customers over the years. This is because vegetables are priced lower at these markets than at the retail outlets that stock vegetables and the grocery stores in the city.

Since 2000, when the farmer’s market was opened, farmers have been bringing their fresh produce to sell at the market on a daily basis.

“Weekends witness maximum business,” says Shanthi, a seller at the sandhai, who hawks vegetables that her family grows in Kodaikanal.

“The prices of vegetables have fallen this month and the demand is steady,” she says. Onions are currently sold at Rs.33 per kilo.

The price of vegetables in the sandhai is fixed by a team of agricultural officers who ensure that they are at least 30 per cent less than the prices at the retail outlets. The absence of middlemen in this market has resulted in farmers enjoying a 30 per cent profit.

“The fact that they do not have to pay any rent or commission to sell their produce here adds to their profits,” says Mr. Arumugam.

In contrast to this compact Sandhai, the Central Market at Mattuthavani is a sprawling area filled with wholesale dealers.

“Many roadside retailers come and buy vegetables from us owing to the bulk quantity that we have,” says shopkeeper G. Balamurugan.

Customers travel long distances to buy vegetables from these two markets over the weekend to stock vegetables for the rest of the week. S. Karthiga, a resident of Aarapalayam, who frequents the Central Market, says that the prices of vegetables are relatively cheaper there.

“As the prices suit our household budgets, we do not mind travelling the distance,” she says.

The need for an integrated market is growing, especially among buyers who visit these markets.

“However, we are forced to travel to Simakkal to buy fruits. If fruit and meat are available at the same place, it will be convenient for buyers,” says R. Mahesh, a buyer.

But the feasibility of an integrated market is open to question. “Many people might object to a meat stall located close to vegetable stalls,” said Shankar Narayanan, Assistant General Manager, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

“Integration is possible only if there is space for stalls to be located comfortably apart. We need that kind of a facility for the idea of an integrated market to be implemented,” he reasoned.

The farmers have been receptive to the infrastructure that these markets offer. At the Bibikulam Farmer’s Market, there are restrooms with regular water supply and a canteen that provides free food for the farmers. A cold storage unit at the market ensures that farmers can store unsold vegetables.

“We sell them in the afternoon or the next day,” said a vendor.

The government provides authorised weights and measures, which the farmers use while selling their products. “People frequent this market because they are sure of the quality of the vegetables,” said Mr.

Arumugam. But the vendors at the Central Market complain about the lack of regular drinking water supply. “We bring water cans with us as we have to sit here the whole day,” said Anand, a coconut seller. “Steps should be taken to provide us with drinking water since we are paying close to Rs.800 as rent every month to use these premises,” he points out.

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