A massive procurement drive of unprecedented proportions has been set in motion with the launch of a State-wide network of sales fairs named Onakazhcha, organised by the Kerala State Horticulture Products Development Corporation (Horticorp) and the State Horticulture Mission as part of a price-control drive.

Rural markets, farmers' groups, and agricultural wholesale markets across the State had been mobilised to supply vegetables and fruits for the fairs that will go on till Thursday. Horticorp managing Director K. Premnath said more than 750 tonnes of vegetables and fruits were expected to be sold at subsidised price through 151 fairs organised by the corporation. The Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Keralam (VFPCK) and district agricultural offices had been roped in to support the market intervention.

Onakazhcha is focussing on direct procurement from the domestic market to eliminate middlemen who dictated prices and to reduce the dependence on neighbouring States for vegetables and fruits. The fairs are offering up to 30 per cent subsidy on most commodities.

“Different types of bananas, plantains, tubers, cucumber, pumpkins, chillies, ladies finger, bitter gourd, snake gourd, brinjal, peas, and amaranthus are being procured from farmers groups and the farms under the Department of Agriculture. Cool-season vegetables like carrot, beetroot, cauliflower, cabbage, potato, and beans are sourced from the markets at Kanthalloor, and Vattavada in Idukki district,” said K. Prathapan, Managing Director, State Horticulture Mission. “Apart from holding the price line, the initiative will also ensure the availability of pesticide-free vegetables and fruits,” Dr. Prathapan said.

The agricultural wholesale markets at Anayara and Nedumangad in Thiruvananthapuram and those at Muvattupuzha, Marad, Vengeri, and Sulthan Batheri had been primed to keep the supply chain active throughout the six days of the fair. “By avoiding middlemen, we ensure that farmers get remunerative price for their produce,” Mr. Premnath said. “We hope to make the procurement mechanism a permanent one,” he added.

In Thiruvananthapuram, apart from the Horticorp supermarket at Pazhavangady and a mega mela organised by the State Horticulture Mission at the Police Grounds, Thycaud, the Onakazhcha network also included 60 retail Horticorp outlets across the district and mobile sales units. Horticorp had also made arrangements to supply vegetable kits at subsidised rates through residents associations and clubs.

Transport Minister V.S. Sivakumar inaugurated the Onakazhcha fair organised by the Horticulture Mission on Sunday morning. Mayor K. Chandrika presided over the function. District panchayat president Remani P. Nair inaugurated the sales.

Dr. Prathapan said the fair had witnessed an overwhelming response in the first few hours. “By noon, we were running out of most items and had to seek replenishment. Almost 90 per cent of our produce is from domestic farmers,” he said.

One of the attractions at the Horticulture Mission expo is a mobile jackfruit bazaar selling saplings and value-added products. While the Tamil Nadu Mango Growers Association is exhibiting different varieties of mango, the stall by the Kannur Development Society features honey-based products.

Ethnic jaggery produced at the Sugarcane Seed Farm, Pandalam and farm-fresh banana leaves for the Onam feast are other attractions.

Dr. Prathapan said the Vazhakkulam Pineapple Growers Association had supplied four tonnes of the Mauritius variety of pineapple for the fair. Value-added items like banana chips, pickles, wines, tapioca, and potato-based products are also being sold.