note demonetisation

Sales down, wages hit: Weeks after demonetisation, it's still the same story at a Patna mandi

The daily-wage workers, whose earnings have crashed from Rs 500 to Rs 50, are the worst affected.

On a chilly December evening, a group of daily-wage workers at Patna’s Maroofganj mandi sat around a small fire warming themselves at the end of the day’s work, before catching trains or buses to the villages where they live. It had been another day of little work at the mandi.

Over a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, volumes are still low at Maroofganj, which supplies cooking oil, rice, pulses and other provisions to the state capital. “Nothing has changed for us,” said Dilip Kumar Singh, who travels every day from his village on the outskirts of Patna to work at the mandi “We are still earning Rs 50 a day, a long way down from the Rs 400-Rs 500 we used to make earlier.”

His assertion echoed what this reporter had heard during an earlier trip to the mandi, 10 days after the demonetisation announcement on November 8. At that time, wholesalers were open for business but both stock arrivals and sales were down to a fifth of what they used to be. Unable to predict supply or demand, the market was frozen. But despite this churn, commodity prices were curiously unchanged. During that visit too, labourers had complained that their daily earnings had plummeted from Rs 500 to Rs 50.

What the traders say

Dilip Kumar Singh said the situation at the mandi was the result of some traders travelling to Gaya, Muzaffarpur and beyond to take advantage of low prices in parts of the hinterland. However, the traders this reporter met denied this. Instead, they flagged other concerns.

Sanjib Kesari, a wholesaler, said business had improved and more customers were now coming to the mandi. Prices, too, were moving – cooking oil, for instance, had risen Rs 3-Rs 4 in the last 20 or so days. But, the situation was nowhere near normal.

Wholesalers’ volumes remain modest. According to them, two factors are at work here. First, traders are chary of conducting too many transactions. “No one wants to put more than Rs 2.5 lakhs into their bank accounts,” said Kesari. “That might result in an income tax notice. We are hoping there is greater clarity by the time the year ends.”

Second, they are struggling with inadequate working capital with banks just giving out Rs 24,000 a week. “That is too little,” said one trader. “Just one sack of mustard costs Rs 3,000.” Even the higher weekly withdrawal cap of Rs 50,000 for current account holders is too low, and the amount is only sporadically available, they said.

That said, most of the traders told Scroll.in that they welcomed notebandi, which they see as an attempt by the government to bring sectors like theirs into the formal economy.

Anger in depoliticised times

Caught in this situation of reduced earnings and rising food prices are the workers, who are struggling to feed their families on a measly Rs 50 a day. Both rice and wheat have climbed from Rs 20 a kilo to Rs 30. As a result, families are cutting back on vegetables, said Dilip Kumar Singh.

That Wednesday evening, he and his fellow workers sitting around the rapidly ebbing fire expressed anger at the Bihar government’s poor welfare delivery. They said that if the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme worked properly, they wouldn’t be in such dire straits.

Even the Public Distribution System functions poorly, said Kumar. “We get 15 kilos of wheat and 10 kilos of rice from there, but not only are both substandard, we also do not get them each month,” he added.

Instead of continuing with the scheme, the daily-wager said the government should just deposit Rs 1,000 into everyone’s accounts each month, so that they could buy the grains themselves.

These are, however, depoliticised times. The workers said no leader had visited the mandi to check on how it was doing, and that they did not have a union that could raise these issues. Nor can they afford to lose a day’s work by agitating. And so, said an old man at the fire, “we are just living day to day”.

Wholesalers' volumes remain modest at Patna's Maroofganj mandi over a month after demonetisation. Photo credit: M Rajshekhar
Wholesalers' volumes remain modest at Patna's Maroofganj mandi over a month after demonetisation. Photo credit: M Rajshekhar
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.