Amid protests for continued government procurement at a pre-determined minimum price (MSP) and repeal of three recently passed agricultural laws, farmers in Madhya Pradesh have alleged exploitation by middlemen, and now demand an MSP for vegetables.
Angry and desperate farmers in state's Barwani and Dewas, near Indore, say procurement prices have been reduced unrealistically by a nexus of middlemen, who are buying vegetables at extremely low prices, but jacking up prices in further sales.
The practice, farmers say, has forced them to use their fresh harvest -cauliflower, brinjals, bottle gourd, coriander -as cattle fodder so they can clear their fields for the next crop.
"I went to sell my vegetables at the mandi but I am feeding it to the cattle because I did not get the right price. I spent Rs 50,000 per bigha (almost 5 acres) on cultivation," said Jagdish Nagar, a farmer in Dewas, just 150 km from state capital Bhopal.
Some 200 km on in Barwani Dinesh Ahirwar said he hasn't broken even in two years. "I haven't even paid my children's school fee," he added.
Another farmer Bansilal said they are offered Rs2-3 for fenugreek.
A reality check in Bhopal's retail markets shows fenugreek being sold for more than ten times the wholesale price.
"We used to buy methi (fenugreek) for Rs 5/kg, but now it is Rs 40/kg. Cauliflower and tomatoes are Rs 40. I have heard the farmers only get Rs5. The shopkeepers here say they are paying Rs35 a kg for many vegetables. So it seems the money is being pocketed by middlemen," said Fahim Khan, a customer.
Business however maintain there is a glut in the market.
"That is why the rates are low... It is not our fault," said businessman Kishore Gajmore.
Distress sale of vegetables has been a recurring tragedy across the country, but now by seeking a Minimum Support Price farmers are essentially asking for evolving a mechanism whereby they do not have to throw vegetables on the streets, or feed them to the cattle.
The Madhya Pradesh government has said it is working to fix an MSP or Minimum Support Price for vegetables.
"The policy of MSP for vegetables and fruits will come into force in the state shortly. We will ensure that farmers' profit margin increases by at least 50 per cent," state Agriculture Minister Kamal Patel.
Till now, countrywide, MSP is only offered for limited commodities, mostly cereals. Kerala is the only state to have introduced the system for fruits and vegetables.