Zizira explorers have been chronicling stories of small and marginal farm folks’ struggles and efforts to market the harvest of their toils. Unlike in many other states of India, where goods move from the farm to the wholesale market with ease by road or rail, the undulating terrain of Northeast India makes transportation challenging.
Let us look at the scene in Meghalaya. Where do the farmers sell their produce? Where are the farmers market?
The eleven districts of Meghalaya are largely poor in infrastructure, roads and communications. Half the state’s villages are yet to be connected by all-weather roads. In many villages roads are non-existent. Landslides are frequent, compounding the problems. It is common to see farmers trekking long distances to transport their produce to the nearest available market.
Read our report on how a bay leaf farmer trudges up a steep track to reach his produce to the market. So, where do the Meghalaya farmers sell their produce? Do they get good money? Let us find out.
Types of Crops Farmers Grow: Subsistence and Cash-crops
Subsistence crops include rice, maize, all types of vegetables, soya bean, ‘rymbai ja’ or rice bean (Vigna umbellata), sweet potato, yam, tapioca etc. both for own consumption and sale in the village markets or ‘Haats’, as they are called
Cash crops are mostly areca nut, betel leaf, bay leaf, tea, black pepper, banana, pineapple, coffee, rubber, and ‘synsar’ or broom grass (Thysanolaena maxima) etc. These are usually bought in bulk by the middlemen and big traders as they have a huge market outside the state and even internationally.
‘Haats’ – The Weekly Farmers Market
Age-old, traditional, weekly village markets or ‘Haats’ are still operational. This market system network is large and popular, operating in every important town. Farmers are important partners of this system, alongside traders of household goods and consumer items, manufacturers, artisans, service providers including transporters, wholesalers, food vendors, market supervisors and representatives from the local government and other agencies. In a ‘Haat’ a whole gamut of economic activity takes place, making it the first place of preference for farmers not only to sell their produce but also to bring back home essentials for their households.
The Haat, besides being the economic raison d’être for the farmer, also provides opportunities for social interaction, learning, future partnerships and negotiations of every kind. It is one of the arenas where government agencies, banks, self-help agencies, NGOs etc. actively participate, for the mutual benefit of all the partners.
The Daily Markets
Daily markets are better suited for farmers living near urban centres with easy access to transportation. Bigger cities, like Shillong, with sizeable urban population needs fresh produce on a daily basis.
The daily markets are bustling in the evenings. Farmers come to the market to either sell directly to consumers or to vendors. The largest of these markets is Iewduh in Shillong, which is also a wholesale market. One notices produce, fresh from the garden, on display at roadsides and street corners. Almost every corner and roadside of main thoroughfares around Iewduh, Jail Road, Polo, and Laitumkhrah, practically every major locality of Shillong is replete with stalls selling fresh produce.
Tourist Spots Make Good Markets
The Shillong/Guwahati highway Nongpoh area, for instance and other main highways, are dotted with stalls selling fresh fruits, pickles and preserves. Driving up to Shillong Peak from the 5th-mile approach one can find stalls displaying and selling the produce of the season (direct from the picturesque fields around them) like cabbages, potatoes, chillies, and radishes etc. attracting tourists. The farmers might charge more from the tourists, who usually do not mind, delighted as they are with such farm fresh produce.
The wholesale market is the preferred venue for farmers to dispose off their produce in bulk. In Shillong, Iewduh or Bara Bazar is the preferred destination, but then only those who have easy access to it can reach here This ancient market is an all-in-one for everything, wholesale or retail. The trade-off for the farmers, for the advantage of disposing off their produce quickly in one shot, maybe lower prices. But, it gives them faster returns.
Other Regulated Markets
The Government of Meghalaya has set up two regulated markets, one in Garobadha in West Garo Hills District and the other in Mawiong in East Khasi Hills District.
Constituted as per the provisions of the Meghalaya Agricultural Produce Market Act 1980, these markets function through an instituted board whose primary mandate is:
- Implementation of the provisions of the Act for better regulation of buying and selling of notified agricultural produce in the State
- Classification of Commodities
- Grading and marking of agricultural and other produce
The Mawiong Wholesale regulated market is managed by the Mawiong Market Committee and has features like:
- Information network system for collection and dissemination of daily market prices
- A geographical service area of 10,443 Sq.Km. comprising of East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills and Ri Bhoi districts
- The ‘Meg Cold Storage’ mechanical refrigeration system for preservation of agricultural and horticultural produce
- Cold chain facilities to cater to the needs of the food processing unit at Shillong and domestic markets
- Scope to expand further, as sub-yards at other centres, as the existing infrastructure is inadequate to handle such large volume of agricultural and horticultural produce
Strangely, however, most farmers still shy away from making full use of this excellent facility.
Talking to a few farmers, Zizira explorers understand that many of them are still unaware of the set-up. Some have tried but found logistical problems overwhelming, i.e., transport is scarce and costs are prohibitive. Some report fewer buyers in the market, resulting in farmers having to leave their produce in the warehouse.
Warehouse officials contend that facilities are available for farmers to leave their stuff there for up to a week in case they don’t get the right price. We understand that some don’t come back to take their stuff as the cost of the travel back and forth is not worth the effort!
No Dearth of Government Support
The government seems to want to do good, but is it working? For example, it distributes seeds, and/or saplings and fertilizer at lower rates or free of cost. It distributes food grains and kerosene to the rural population. And, under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), it provides jobs for at least 100 days, with a set minimum wage.
The biggest fallout of the MGNREG scheme is the upward push in farm wages, which most farmers cannot afford to pay. Farmers report that farm hands refuse to work at wages below MGNREGA minimum which makes it hard for them to find help. Overall, our observation is that farmers of Meghalaya continue to struggle to get good returns for their efforts.
Possibly, the first step towards helping the farmers, the backbone of our economy and the providers of our nutrition, can be by recognising and appreciating their efforts.
Zizira, in its own way, tries to chip in, by recognizing the farmers of Meghalaya and opening markets through an online initiative. Visit our store to find out more.
Do you have a personal story about a farmer from the Northeast of India? Share your farmer story with us!