EDITORIAL: Focus on fair trade

Farmers need easy access to market so that they can sell their produce at competitive prices, which, in turn, will enable consumers to get a fair deal

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies yesterday formed a panel led by joint-secretary Navaraj Dhakal to effectively manage vegetable markets and to dismantle the cartel of intermediaries in vegetable trading. The ministry decided to form the panel to recommend ways to best protect farmers’ interest and to regulate and stabilise prices of vegetables in marketplaces after vegetable brokers “locked up” members of a monitoring team comprising consumer rights activists and government officials at the government-owned vegetable and fruit market in Kalimati on Monday. Vegetable brokers became aggressive after the monitoring team seized two vegetable-laden trucks for failing to produce purchase receipts. Police, however, rescued the inspection team members after two hours of scuffle with the traders. Police have also arrested two middlemen on charges of locking up the monitoring team members. The monitoring team had inspected the vegetable market following complaints that traders and brokers purchased vegetables from farmers at a lower cost and sold them at higher prices, putting both farmers and consumers at the losing end.

Vegetable and fruit markets across the country are controlled by traders and brokers, who unilaterally set prices of those goods at the farm gate as well as in the market. And in most of the cases, traders, brokers and wholesalers collude to protect their own interest. Joint-secretary Dhakal has said the committee led by him would recommend ways to stabilise vegetable prices and maintain the quality of the goods. Around 800 tonnes of vegetables are supplied to Kalimati market every day. The middlemen generally purchase vegetables from farmers at throwaway prices and sell them to consumers at the highest possible rate. A middleman was recently found buying a kilo of cauliflower from a farmer at Rs 18 and selling it to consumers for as much as Rs 150.

Obviously, traders and middlemen play the role of a bridge between farmers and the market. But their profit margin should not be exorbitant. The government should, thus, monitor and regulate these activities. Also, farmers who spend a lot of time in their fields should not face any problem in gaining access to quality seeds, fertilisers, financing services and latest technology. Moreover, farmers especially need easy access to the market so that they can sell their produce at competitive prices, which, in turn, will enable consumers to get a fair deal. In this regard, the Ministry of Agriculture had unveiled a plan to regulate vegetable and fruit markets a couple of months ago. But its proposals have been shelved. One of the best ways to address the long-drawn-out conflict between farmers and intermediaries is to encourage farmers to organise themselves in cooperatives, which will enhance their bargaining capacity with traders while setting vegetable prices. The government should also provide stalls to such cooperatives in marketplaces from where they can sell their produce without the presence of middlemen. The government policy should aim to provide optimum benefits to farmers as well as consumers.

Ensure safety

Locals of Newartole in Dolakha’s Bhimeshwor Municipality-7 are spending sleepless nights for fear of being swept away by landslides, as the earth near their homes is gradually slipping. Most of these people had recently moved to this area and built new houses after the place where they previously lived was severely hit by devastating earthquakes of April and May, 2015. People who had relocated to new areas should not have been living in fear of losing everything, including their lives, to natural disasters. But it has now become apparent that the new place that they had shifted to is as prone to natural disasters as the previous one.

Last year, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), the government body that is overseeing post-earthquake reconstruction, had prepared a list of quake survivors living in high-risk areas and had sought to relocate them to safer places. Since then, many quake survivors, especially those residing in Sindhupalchowk and Ramechhap districts, have been relocated to new places. But questions have started arising over whether the new places are safe, because quite a number of people who were relocated in Sindhupalchowk district have seen their property damaged by landslides this monsoon.