eNAM Can Help Farmers Earn Better Profits – But It Has a Long Way to Go
eNAM was launched by the govt in order to facilitate online trading of commodities for farmers, traders and buyers.
"What is eNAM? We only know and believe in APMC mandis," says Dhonatare Patil, a farmer based out of Pune.
In 2016, an online trading platform named National Agriculture Market or eNAM was launched by the Government of India in order to facilitate online trading of commodities for farmers, traders and buyers.
However, as Patil told The Quint, most farmers including him are not really aware of the online portal or the concept of e-mandis.
"Even if they (government) have started an online platform, how can someone buy commodities, especially fruits and vegetables, without physically seeing them?" he asks.
When 1,000 new mandis were added to the eNAM portal by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in February this year – to facilitate more and more farmers to sell their harvested produce online – the step was seen as a solution to farmers' woes, that were amplified by the pandemic.
But, data presented on the eNAM website reveals that only 1.70 crore farmers (as of April 2021), are registered on the platform.
This means that out of 11.8 crore farmers (as per Population Census 2011) only 14 percent farmers are on eNAM, suggesting that the promised disruption in farm procurement was not realised.
Echoing similar sentiments, Nirmal Pandey, former pradhan of a small village in Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh, told The Quint that he is unaware about eNAM.
"I don't think anyone from my village, including farmers, are aware of the eNAM portal. In fact, I was the former pradhan, and this is the first time I am hearing of something called 'eNAM'."Nirmal Pandey, former pradhan of a village in Himachal's Chamba
Why is eNAM Important?
Conventionally, in order to trade, farmers stock up the produce and travel to the nearest mandi from their villages, which can sometimes be miles away. The trader at the mandi analyses the product’s quality and decides the price.
In many cases, the buyers make false assumptions about the quality, thereby not paying beyond a certain amount – which often leads to losses for the farmers.
Due to lack of alternative business mediums, the farmer is at the mercy of the buyer, and is forced to accept whatever price is offered.
The buyers occasionally stock up on certain food items to create an artificial scarcity in the market, thereby increasing the cost of those items and the vicious cycle continues.
eNAM helps in better price discovery for farmers and provides facilities for smooth marketing of their produce pan-India.
The government had claimed that the eNAM platform would serve as an online trading system much like Amazon or Flipkart, where the buyers and the selling farmers can transact. Both the seller and buyer need to register on the platform.
The farmer needs to upload details of his produce and a photo of the harvest on the platform.
What's Happening With eNAM Now?
The Quint spoke to several farmers and Rohan Satish Ursal, Secretary of Chatrapati Shivaji Market Yard, located in Pune, to understand why aren't more and more farmers relying upon the eNAM platform.
Ursal notes that farmers feel more comfortable with physical trading rather than going online.
"To sell a commodity online, the farmer has to upload a picture, which works similar to any online marketplace, but the problem lies in the quality of products. What matters in the agri business is the quality of the commodities, and certainly, images can be deceptive," he says.
He also pointed out several instances where buyers received poor quality of products, while the images showed otherwise.
According to a report by The Hindu Business Line, a Gujarat-based trader tried to buy wheat online, but the deal ended in a lot of trouble related to transportation.
Another major issue that Ajay Bhamare, another farmer, points out is packaging and transportation of goods. “If we start selling online, we will also be responsible for packaging and transporting the product, which is a challenge. We are not in the logistics business... government should make arrangements for the transportation of commodities as well."
Smart Farming – An Exercise in Widening Digital Divide?
A success story posted on eNAM platform talks about how better prices were obtained by Mahakaushal Progressive Farmers Self Reliant Producer Company Ltd (MPFSRPCL) farmers through eNAM at Chikla village of Seoni district in Madhya Pradesh.
“Farmers are very happy with the transparent system. Due to eNAM, small and marginal farmers are realising Rs 70 to 150 per quintal more. MPFSRPCL’s members are glad now as their company is able to serve its large member base due to eNAM because payment is quickly credited into their Producer Company account and they are no longer dependent on intermediaries,” says Ubhayshankar Chourasiya, director, MPFSRPCL.
But it seems that the ground reality is still not reflected by the success stories alone. Despite mobile phones being quite prevalent in rural parts of the country as well, there is a significant shortage of tech-savvy farmers who can operate online portals and smartphones.
It should also be noted that there is also an inherent distrust towards online platforms, where one has to put in personal information and link bank accounts.
While talking to The Quint, Ursal rightly points out that several farmers are not comfortable with putting their personal payment information on the eNAM platform. "Some of them don't even have bank accounts, and the ones who do are not tech-savvy enough to sell any commodities online."
What's the Solution?
Amit Srivastava, co-founder and CEO of InfyU Labs, an agritech company, told The Quint that it's high time to make the Indian agricultural trading process transparent.
"E-mandis and apps that educate farmers about online trade and help them with business can pave the way for the future," he says.
Srivastava also notes that farmers have an inherent fear of technology and are only comfortable with their cultural practices. They are reluctant to change, especially if they are not convinced that what they are being encouraged to adopt is much better than what they are used to.
"With growing digitisation, farmers can gain benefits from the more straightforward process offered by the online platform, take hold of their finances and, in turn, grow their customer base," Srivastava adds.
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