Farmers' worst fears coming true

Farmers worst fears coming true
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Farmers' worst fears coming true

Highlights

The farmers' protests began on November 25 last year, when thousands of farmers — mainly from Punjab and Haryana — marched towards the national capital, demanding a complete repeal of the three farm laws

The farmers' protests began on November 25 last year, when thousands of farmers — mainly from Punjab and Haryana — marched towards the national capital, demanding a complete repeal of the three farm laws. The protests are going on till date with no solution in sight as the Centre remains "untouched" by the same and the farmers continue to be in protest mode.

The government has been arguing that the farm laws will only boost the farmers' incomes and that they are not anti-farmer. Farmers on the other hand insist the withdrawal of the government role from the procurement markets will affect them adversely. They also argue that private players who enter the procurement market following the legislation will only exploit them to the hilt. The government is reluctant to buy this story.

However, some 350 km away from the national capital, the worst fears of farmers are now unfolding, proving their contention. The famed Shimla apple market is denting the claims of the Centre in no uncertain terms. Shimla has a Rs 5,000 crore apple business. This is mostly a free market. Direct sourcing by corporates like Reliance Industries, ITC and Adani for their retail ventures has caused a 50% jump in apple prices in Himachal Pradesh in 2006. Farmers were all happy at the lucrative price. More cold storages came up and mobility scaled up in moving the apples.

But this year, the apples have become sour for the farmers. Adani group announced its opening price for A-grade, premium quality apples at Rs 72 per kg, much less than nearly Rs 90 offered last year. Result: the market collapse.

When someone like Adani offers Rs 72 per kg of A grade apples why would anyone else offer more? In fact, this year the market opened up to a good prospect for the farmers at Rs 2,000 per box of 25 kg. Even this Rs 72 is for big apples with 100 per cent colour, it is said. The lowest quality secures only Rs 12 per kg. Adani's game has just begun. It was just biding its time. Adani is not the only player now in the market.

The Himalayan Society for Horticulture and Agriculture Development, a Rohru-based NGO's survey, says that Adani, who bought A grade quality apples at Rs 65 per kg a decade ago, is now only offering Rs 72 per kg. Production costs have only skyrocketed now. Earlier, it was Rs 250 per box and now it is Rs 600 per box. Adani does not buy more than 10 lakh boxes (of 25 kg each) every season which is hardly 4 per cent of the total market. Yet, the corporate giant can destabilise the price. Same Adani group sells a box for Rs 250-300.

Records show us that Adani group was offered land at a pittance to set up its three cold storage centres in Rampur, Rohru and Sanj in Shimla district. Farmers allege that the group is also breaking land lease rules and offering the Himachal growers very little instead of reserving 25 per cent space in the cold storages for them. If and when Adani becomes the sole player?

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