Close to the Alwal railway station, nestled quietly away from the main road lies an expanse of green. The municipal authorities have allocated some land here for the local Rythu market. Set in this quiet oasis, on the outskirts of the busy city, this semi rural ambience was an attractive invitation to explore the space.Needless to say, the rain washed greenery and a few cattle and poultry moving around made it picture perfect!
The agricultural development committee of Andhra Pradesh State began Rythu or Farmer’s market in 1999 as a social initiative. With a purpose of bringing the farm produce directly to the consumer and removing any middle men and price negotiations the markets became a safer and healthier option for local business. Now, every city in the state is allocated a certain area on a semi permanent basis or a weekly basis where Rythu operate. The weekly ones shift from one area to another within a certain kilometre distance. Vegetable farmers or committees fix the selling price of produce on a daily basis. A notice board is placed at the entrance of the market (Language: Telugu). The committee appoints a presiding officer and other personnel for upkeep of matters, hygiene of area, sanitary requirements.Distribution of seeds, fertilizers and farm knowledge and support are also given to the small scale farmers who enroll in this scheme.
Inside the semi open, semi constructed area there was a generous feel of space made magical by a canopy of trees. There were well designated, cemented slabs made for each vendor. At the far end were slabs were devoid of produce and vendors, but the bright red painted background walls depicting ” muggulu or rangoli” traditional patterns looked very inviting.
Makeshift stalls with plastic sheets tied to bamboo poles made competition stiff and the walk through was narrowed. Squatting on available side space, vendors pitched a slightly lower price, but the produce too was (maybe) a day old. Beware! plainclothes middle men touts were seen walking around demanding their share of money! So not all is quiet and controlled, in spite of an agricultural committee and officer allotted to these areas for supervision.
Seeing farm fresh produce and hearing a constant buzz, is such a delightful market experience! I stood admiring some green vegetables: green beans, cluster beans, chillies and bhindi or lady finger…each a different green! Stacked in mounds on the platform, they were taken out of the transporting plastic reinforced carry bags. Each could carry about 10 kilos of vegetables, at the least. Brought in from local farms around their villages in Upprapally, Gajvel and other areas, the vendors collected and paid for the produce on a weekly basis,then loaded it onto hired tempo vans and brought them to the market.
Most worked as couple pairs or family help, they lifted the bags themselves from the parking area to the sheltered slabs half a kilometre away. Here they sat daily from 8 am to 3 pm, bringing along their tiffin carriers for a mid day meal.( I would have loved to take a peek into that too:)…another day perhaps!)
Covid 2020 had its own impact. ( Notice how everyone is wearing cloth masks!).Produce was plenty, but lock down restrictions meant, some vegetables were wasted or could not reach the market. Some was sold at lower price within the rural areas or sold in designated city areas by young vendors operating mobile vans and having a police permit.
I chatted with a few women vendors who looked curiously each time I raised my mobile phone camera. What was their daily routine? What was the impact of Covid on home and economic condition? What time do they rise each morning to put time into their business? Who helps them at home?
Some ignored my conversations, others narrated about tough time without money, still other women laughed they missed the routine of travelling in and out of home, and meeting fellow vendors. Life in the new normal is for one and all! If we educated ones are dealing with virtual classes and learning moments, they too are learning to use news on the mobile, save money to top up charge, set aside time and money to seek help with functioning of mobile phones and use them not just for talking but being more productive with business needs. One vendor inquired if I was a newspaper writer, another noticed my different Telegu accent ( though I do speak the language quite well) yet another told me off straight in Hindi not to take photos of the local papayas that she procured going from farm to farm in her neighbourhood. Hindi /Urdu are the other official languages of Telengana state, besides Telugu.
Mallama and her elderly husband aged 60 + years have been regular sitters on the outside area, awaiting their licence permit to be able to sit on the stands inside the premises. She sells seasonal vegetables, and in the monsoon picks up the corn baskets from the farmers. She sells about 5-6 kilos each day returning home in the late afternoon to clean house and cook.
As I purchased some berakaya , ridge gourd a highly nutritious vegetable and a local popular , I noticed the colourful glass bangles on this vendor. They fit so snugly on her wrists, she was able to continue her household work and maybe once in 3-4 months she visited the bangle seller for a change. “That is some luxury! ” she laughed, talking in local Telugu language. “Berakaya chutney is made with lots of green chillies, tamarind and coriander. Put it on a mound of hot steaming ration rice…and you have a good meal!” She added.
On my way out, I picked up seasonal guavas and some local (not hybrid variety) of papaya from these two lovely, chatty vendors. They posed,wanted to see their photos and talked about how their young children are constantly using mobiles! A changing face of rural India! And the elder communities grapple with why /how/when/if…..of the mobile phones and apps.
That’s all for now about my first hand experience into buying fresh and helping the farming community in my own small way.
What is it that touched your heart while reading this post?
What experience can you relate to in your own country with the vendors?
Do leave your comments for a good exchange of news.