BAZAAR OR SUPERMART: Where should you buy from?

‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan!’ Heard this enough? You must have. It was raised back in 1965 to increase food grain production in our country, reduce dependence on imports and most importantly, to do away with the plight of farmers. However, 53 years down the lane, nothing changed much. The misery, the plight, the undeterred efforts and the not so appreciable gains are all the same. Who is at fault? None can deny, agriculture in India is more a way of life than just a mode of business. Farming has been the backbone of the Indian economy. About half of the Indian population depends on agriculture for income. Agriculture and its related sectors contribute around US$244.74 billion to India’s economy. Besides commercial agriculture, subsistence agriculture i.e. farming with an emphasis on the production of food for the cultivator’s family is widespread in our country.

Agriculture production and farmers’ welfare are like two sides of the coin. Despite India being a ‘green power,’ farmers continue to commit suicide. Don’t you think this is a cause demanding concern? Corporatization of the farming sector - what appears good may not be so good! There are repeated stories in the media on how FDI in retail could benefit the farmers of India. But unfortunately, the evidence points in the opposite direction. Farmers have to pay a big price, with hundreds of them forced to shut down their farms, due to the big retailers and supermarkets coming up. Big retail functions on a simple business model. Expand more and more till the market becomes an oligopsony — which means a situation where power is exerted by a small number of buyers over a large number of sellers. Big companies keep getting bigger with the chain of exploitation, using wholesale agents who extract low prices from unorganized, indebted farmers. They exert pressure on the small farmer who is worried to sell his produce. The UK food retailing industry, for example, is now dominated by just four supermarket chains who together account for over two-thirds of retail food sales. Likewise, the top five chains in the US account for over 60 percent of food sales. We all buy food, but not everyone gets their food from the same place. The hawker who comes to your colony every morning or the farmer in the local bazaar wants to sell their produce to you. Also, the big stores in your big city with a variety of so-called ‘fresh’ daily items want you to grab a few things from there. Advocate P Sainath, who has been writing about rural India for 18 years says, “The middleman at the city end (in the local bazaar) is usually a poor woman vendor who carries up to seven flights of stairs 35 kilograms of produce on her head. Every day it's getting more difficult for her to get produce because the wholesalers sell directly to Reliance Fresh and Godrej Nature's Basket (the supermarket giants.)"

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