It is hardly surprising that battle lines are drawn on the enforcement of the Plastic Crate transportation edict. I reported this a few days ago (8th December) in my previous blog entry that it was about to erupt. The government should have known better. You cannot change a lifetime of habit by an edict. It may take about 2 years.
So we all suffer due to government intransigence yet again. Yesterday 250g carrots cost Rs100. Can you think of US$4 a kilo of carrots! When I lived in the US in a farming area of the San Jaochim Valley a whole plastic crate of carrots was the same price, how ironic!!
What next? It was interesting that the Minister was extolling on TV yesterday that he has informed his officials not to prosecute farmers bringing produce in gunny bags if they come in Landmaster Tractors!! lest he would face mounting protest. He has therefore singled out the ‘large transporters’ for particular blame.
It must be said that Johnston Fernando, the Minister of Consumer Affairs maintained on TV yesterday that up to 40% of produce was lost in transport alone, and that the farmers would receive a greater income under the new policy. I dispute both facts. The farmers will receive no greater income, as they do not lose. They sell at farmgate. They are too poor to transport except in a few instances. The lower volume loss in transport may actually result in lower prices to the farmers!!
For farmers, the disadvantage of transport in crates as opposed to the current system in their tractors outweighs the advantages in a max of 5% of produce loss in their transport to the nearest wholesale purchaser. It is typical that the authorities have no clue about all the steps in the food chain, and have just taken a report out of context, without realizing all the steps in transport. I have dealt with this topic at length a long time ago as well, and my thoughts are still the same. If the Minister read my blog a while ago he would not have made such a fool of himself.
It is the trader mafia that calls the shots. The consumer and the farmer pay the price. Please keep the farmer out of this. He must have a higher unit price for his produce, and the continuing instances of oversupply that depress the prices to suicide inducing levels will not be changed by the plastic crate policy. As a transporter and a retailer as well as a home delivery specialist I can say that very often at the retail level a substantial amount of produce is wasted due to the lack of storage (refrigeration) facilities. That is a problem that is again not addressed by the plastic crate policy.
If you are a fruit stall with bunches of banana for sale, how much wastage of unsold banana do you think you have? It averages about 25%. So the trick is to educate them in the use of the excess unsold banana. Research into making some food items using overripe banana should be an important priority for ITI. I remember, making banana fritters from this but there are only so many fritters you can eat. Is there a method to make frozen fritters cheaply and popularize it?
Getting back to the main aspect of my report IT IS to find a compromise both parties can live with, as a face saving move. Now that the battle lines are drawn and Johnny does not want to look a fool in the same way he threw away thousands of coconuts from Kerala into the sea, and made a cut on cheap and unsellable eggs from India he is now into his umpteenth scandal. I also heard today that some close connection of his is involved in the manufacture or at least of marketing of the crates at Rs1750 each even though it is sold on a monthly payment basis not exceeding Rs100 a month. Who is kidding whom? People who purchase this know that the interest is built into this price already.
I was very sad to see these crates being thrown from the top of lorries yesterday on the TV news. I know they can be damaged and transportation suffers as the stackability of these crates is also an issue along with the volume that can be carried in a cost effective manner.
The Compromise should be to sell the crates at a subsidized rate of Rs500 each for immediate purchase. Anything more is prohibitive as most of the vegetables carried in each crate are of lesser value than the crates themselves. The cost of road transport is in essence the difference between profit and loss, and the market economy cannot justify the increased requirement of vehicles to transport lower weights unless someone subsidizes them. So the government which has no clue as to how the market economy works, must try and understand why these traders are protesting vehemently, and the consumers and farmers suffer for different reasons.
I am afraid in this the President intervenes and the consummate politician that he is will climb down on this demand and shift the blame completely onto Johnny who could lose his portfolio at the next cabinet reshuffle. I still believe some good will come out of this, it will get farmers, traders and consumers to think through the problems in wastage, and find solutions to all the problems, by not transferring the blame a trader led protest, and find solutions for the most cost effective means of reducing the massive wastage between what is grown and what is consumed. IT IS NOT ALL A PLASTIC CRATE ISSUE. So how about a good rail transport policy to shift volumes that the road system cannot hope to do without more congestion?