A vegetable farmer in Kerala. Photo: S. Gopakumar
Perhaps for the first time in the country, a State government has decided to fix a ‘basic price’ for a variety of vegetables and some other locally-grown perishable products, as a measure to ensure price stability and an assured income for small farmers.
The basic price for 16 farm commodities will come into effect in Kerala from November 1, a meeting of the State Cabinet decided on October 21.
The price will be decided by specially appointed committees on the basis of production cost and productivity of the common varieties such as banana, tapioca, cucumber, snake gourd, bitter gourd, ash gourd, tomato, lady’s finger, cabbage, carrot, potato, beans, beetroot, garlic and pineapple.
As State Agriculture Minister V.S. Sunil Kumar told Frontline that the scheme is meant to assure farmers of a decent basic price whenever the market price of farm commodities falls below it. The basic price would be at least 20 per cent more than the production cost incurred by the farmers.
The government hopes this will help protect farmers from wide fluctuations in the market price and provide a boost to vegetable production in Kerala, which is now dependent on other States for a large share of its food and vegetable needs (‘Kerala: Cooperatives against corporates’).
The scheme is to be implemented by the State Agriculture Department with the support of the local bodies and the State Cooperation Department. The listed crops will be procured by wholesale village markets run by primary agricultural cooperative societies, and government agencies such as the Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Kerala (VFPCK) and HORTICORP. One such market is to be opened in every panchayat in the State. In the first phase, primary agriculture cooperatives will procure the listed crops from farmers directly through 250 such wholesale markets. Each farmer will be eligible for the basic price benefit for produce from 15 acres only per season.
Whenever the market price goes below the basic price, local bodies would provide a ‘gap fund’ to the primary cooperatives engaged in procurement. Local-level committees headed by the chairperson of the local body concerned and the president of the primary cooperative society will be established to take decisions in this matter.
Farmers will have to register details about their crops in the Agriculture Department’s online portal, Agriculture and Information Management System (AIMS), which will also be used for the registration of farmers, identifying and monitoring the area and production, and certifying local produce. Registration is also possible through the AIMS mobile app. Common operational guidelines for the procurement agencies are soon to be announced by the Agriculture Department.
When the market price goes below the listed basic price of each crop the price difference between the two will be directly credited into the bank accounts of the farmers by the Agriculture Department on the basis of the report of the procurement agency. The procured crops will then be marketed under the brand name, ‘Jeevani _ Kerala Farm Fresh Fruits and Vegetables’.
The Government has announced that a State-level committee with the Additional Chief Secretary (Coordination) as chairman and Agriculture Production Commissioner as vice-chairman will also be formed to evaluate the implementation of the programme, to revise the basic price of each crop in a timely manner, and to bring more crops within its ambit. A final decision on any revision of basic price will be taken by the government on the basis of the recommendation of the State-level committee.