Uzhavar sandhais' in the city's suburbs are getting more popular following the price rise, for they offer cheaper alternative when it comes to buying good quality vegetables. However, the patronage is not uniformly good, for access, maintenance and availability pose problems.
Of the five Sandhais in Tiruvallur district, including those at Tiruvallur and Tiruttani, the one in Avadi has good patronage, thanks to its proximity to the railway station. However, the Sandhais in Ambattur and Red Hills are virtually defunct.
In addition to accessibility, the Avadi example has more lessons to offer, such as flexibility in market timings.
The working hours of the market has been extended till 8 p.m. as several office-goers buy vegetables in the evening.
The farmer market in Ambattur wears a deserted look. Since it is away from residential localities, consumers and farmers do not consider it an easy option.
The one in Red Hills, which is hidden between the rice mills, also has poor response with only two shops being run by SHGs. Only 10 customers visit the market every day.
Change of site is the only solution, according to farmers, who choose options that make more business sense.
K. Rajendran, a farmer from Pammadukulam said, “I save up 20 per cent of agent commission by selling my produce here. I prefer travelling three km additionally to Avadi instead of Red Hills as there are no takers there.”
The produce is sold at a cost 20 per cent more than the wholesale rate but 15 per cent less than the retail price.
R. Jawahar, a farmer from Erankuppam, said, “I prefer selling vegetables in other markets and returning to work in two hours than spending hours together at the Sandhais, where there is hardly any business.”
The Uzhavar Sandhais in the southern suburbs have a story of their own.
The first Sandhai in the southern suburbs was inaugurated in Pallavaram in 2001. Subsequently, the government added four more such markets at Nanganallur, Medavakkam, Zamin Raayapettai and Keelkattalai. Nearly 1,000 farmers in St. Thomas Mount Block are registered at these markets. The daily sales here has been encouraging, especially after the recent sky-rocketing of prices.
“Unlike farmers here who cultivate brinjal, ladies finger, spinach, drumstick and gourd varieties in their own farms and sell them directly, we bring English vegetables from wholesale markets and sell them at lower than retail prices here,” said Amudha Valli, a vendor.
C. Saraswathi, a home maker in Cantonment Pallavaram, who visits the Pallavaram market more than once a week, said such markets helped the middle class and lower income sections.
On certain days, prices of vegetables are on a par with open market prices. For instance, the cost of onion was Rs. 25 a kg at the market in Zamin Raayapettai inaugurated on January 14, while it was the same in a city market. This is despite a 30 per cent concession on the inaugural day.
Meanwhile, the Agriculture Department is set to start 25 more Uzhavar Sandhais across the State and plans to open retail outlets in cooperative societies.
P. Rama Mohana Rao, Principal Secretary (Agriculture), said the department has requested various government agencies such as Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board, Tamil Nadu Housing Board and the Chennai Corporation to provide space for farmer markets.
“We want to open 12 such markets by this month-end. Of the seven proposed in Kancheepuram, two have already been opened. The Chennai Corporation is in the process of identifying space for the markets in the city,” he said.