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Coimbatore’s initiative for fair price and honest shopping during pandemic

by BQ News Bureau
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G. Rajasekaran

The lockdown has seen the crumbling of entrenched market forces and scripting of a successful Farm-to-Consumer (F2C) story in Coimbatore.

The last week of March saw farmers leaving their comfort zones and trooping into residential colonies in vehicles to sell their products directly to the consumers. But this Statewide phenomenon was seen more as kneejerk reaction and farmers lacked the efficiency and sophistry of the regular market mechanism which had come to a sudden halt.

“A progressive leap was, however, made soon by the coming together of four civil society forums — Citizen’s Voice Club, Coimbatore Anti-Corruption Movement, AIM an NGO and Vivasaiygal Sangam. We found COVID-19 as an opportunity to put into action our common objective of implementing fair pricing and honest shopping principles,“ says, C.M Jayaraman of Citizen’s Voice Club.

All praise for the apartment and gated community associations for their support, P. Kandasamy, a farmer from Arumuga Goundenur and State general secretary of Vivasaiygal Sangam, begins with his personal story.

“During the first week of the lockdown banana was ready for harvest in my farm but the wholesalers refused to take it saying the roads were empty and people wouldn’t buy. However, many shops were selling bananas at Rs 45 a kg. I offered my bananas at Rs 12 per kg to the wholesale agents but they did not buy it. With no alternative but to see the entire crop perishing, I decided to sell directly to the consumers at Rs 15 a kg with the support of Citizen’s Voice Club. The entire harvest was sold directly. In the same week, we heard that a farmer from Udhagamandalam brought unsold carrots from his farm to Mettupalayam and sold it at Rs 8 per kg and left with less than the cost of production. But the same carrot was sold at Rs 81 a kg in Coimbatore market. This gave us enough reason to embrace the new realities,” says Mr. Kandasamy.

Mayflower Apartments in Coimbatore was the first to open the gates for farmers. “We gave the farmers space and many of us volunteered to assist them in selling. They sold at a price below the market price and at still lower in the case of greens, banana pith and banana flower. For many residents, the F2C service meant cutting down risky trips and avoiding the crowd of morning shoppers. On the other hand, allowing two or three outsiders in the gated community was seen less risky. We had finally discovered a way out of the lockdown dilemma. The 291 families in the gated community instantly fell for the new way of buying farm-fresh goods at less than market price” says K. Jayarman, a resident.

Revealing initial hiccups and how the F2C operations were streamlined, Mr. Kandasamy says that farmers are steeped in conditioned mindsets. They would rather prefer to sell at their farm gate at a lesser price than venture out in search of the buyer. The direct selling mode was not a smooth transition and farmers had to be convinced that by selling at a price they would give to wholesalers.

“We get prices from Uzhavar Sandhai and some large departmental stores every morning and fix our price, which is mostly same or less in the case of locally grown vegetables. Once the price is fixed, we send the three price lists to residents and farmers on Whatsapp so that there is transparency in price-fixing,” says Mr. Kandasamy.”

On how the F2C was able to sell vegetables at lower prices, Mr. Kandasamy says his milk van that goes to villages in the morning to collect milk picks the vegetables from farm gates. This way transport cost is taken care of. At the apartments, the residents lend a helping hand in offloading and display. Some even volunteer in cash collection.

Honest shopping

As an offshoot of the F2C, the civil society initiative has introduced an honest shopping concept. Under this, farmers supply Rs 1000-worth greens, banana pith and flower daily. The cost of greens is Rs 10 per bundle as against Rs 20 in the market. The bundles arrive at about 5.30 am and kept at the allotted space in the apartment. Two college students, who are paid Rs 200 for a few hours of work, man the operations. Customers can pick the bundle and drop the money in a box with no one to receive the cash. “This is an initiative to inculcate honest shopping. Bread, bakery items and milk are also supplied under honesty shopping,” says Mr. C. M. Jayaraman.

“The arrangement is working well and, on invitation, we now supply to 20 apartments in Coimbatore. Each apartment is visited twice a day based on an agreed time table. About 200 farmers have come into the F2C fold and nearly 10 tonnes of vegetables are sold daily. The items which are not available with our farmers, especially English vegetables, are bought from wholesalers. The product range is now about 80 varieties of fruit and vegetables and 20 varieties of greens,” says Mr. Kandasamy.

Reminiscing how the F2C service was very useful in coping with the pandemic dilemmas without losing a thing, Mr. K. Jayaraman says, “The entire apartment residents had sumptuous mangoes from Salem during the peak season. The F2C also arranged for us even the exotic fruit Mangosteen.  I don’t think there would be valid reasons to return to the old way of shopping even in the post-COVID- 19 days.

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