Picture this: an elderly lady dressed in expensive silk saree, gold bangles, diamond ring, platinum earings, wearing an exquisite pashmina, gets down from her chauffer driven Audi A6 and starts walking on the dusty road. It is crowded in the street.There are vendors on the pavement. Then there are hawkers with push-carts. There are sellers on bicycles and rickshaws. It’s a crowded weekly market. Product – fresh fruits and vegetables. The lady asks for the prices of certain items at a stall. After much haggling she finalises the purchase – by this time the driver has parked the big car and has rushed back to help her. He carries the bag for her. She goes bargaining from stall to stall and makes her purchases of various fruits and vegetables. Then the driver walks back towards the car loaded with fruits and veggies. The lady is beaming with satisfaction and delighted over the evening purchase.
If you think this is a far-fetched scenario – think again. This is how we Indians still buy our fresh. It doesn’t matter which economic strata or social class we belong to – most of us still cling to the old fashioned way of buying the fresh produce from the pavement markets, street vendors, pushcart sellers and all sorts of unorganized players. If you don’t believe me – please visit the next weekly market for fresh produce. If should not be too difficult to find one – there are plenty of them all around Delhi.
Some of the arguments for:
Myths around the weekly pavement market:
- It’s a farmer's market: Farmer’s market my @$$! These markets has got nothing whatsoever to do with farmers. The vendors procure it from wholesale markets (mandi) and sometimes even from a broker who has procured it from mandi. The vendors have no connections with farmers. They don’t know how much is paid to the farmers.
2. Employment for poor: Well there is some truth in the fact that these markets are source of livelihood for small vendors. But think again – what sort of employment? It barely helps them survive and subsist – and it also provides them an excuse not to seek serious employment which will be a fair economic payment to them. Most of the vendors are desperately poor and the cut throat nature of competition in these market only adds to their misery.
3. Convenience: Really? That’s news to me. If by convenience you mean lack of parking space, high decibel levels, bending your spine by 90 deg to sort and pick your fresh, breathing the lantern smoke, pushing and shoving, groping for change in your wallet and carrying your purchase in polybags which will bite into your fingers during all the haggling and waiting period, well, it is convenient then. For me convenience is – having a trolley cart to shop, clearly mentioned prices, transparent weighing and billing, acceptance of cash and cards, well lighted, clean and air conditioned environments of a modern retail store.
4. Prices are low: Prices are low – yes that’s right, prices are low for the vendors. Low enough to give them meagerest of returns. For the customers the prices are not low. If you masses are flocking to these markets under the impression that they are saving thousands, well, what can we say. Its pure ignorance. Occasionally there will be items which will touch rock bottom in these markets and add to the impression that the prices of fruits and veggies there are low. But the truth is that overall inflation in the prices of fresh has multiplied manifold in recent times despite the widespread (almost universal) existence of these markets.
Why ? because these small vendors have no bargaining power whatsoever while buying their produce from the large wholesalers. That’s why the vendor simply buy at whatever price the wholesalers sells to them and then add a margin (a veneer of margin) on top to arrive at a sales price. They compete with each other to buy from wholesalers and compete with each other to sell to the customers (do you now recall the full throated cry for the cheapest bhindi or potato there).
Despite a perception of low prices, the prices in these markets keep increasing unabatedly and the customers merely accept the newer prices as a reality of life.
These small vendors can not (are unable to) offer genuinely, durably low prices (and certainly not good value for money) due to the following:
- Tremendous wastages in their supply chains
- No economies of scale
The truth about pavement markets:
- Unorganised: These markets are unorganized, poorly managed and inefficient, offering poor value for money
- Inconvenient – Neighbourhood convenience is an illusion and amply demonstrated in the point related to “convenience myth” above
- Unhyegienic – The produce gets sold on the footpath. Now washing and cleaning your fresh at home is one thing but does it not strike you odd, that you buy your shoes from the plush showrooms and for your food you are shopping in dust, dirt, pollution and poor hygiene !!!! Please visit this link
- Illegal: Well, despite what the government or MCD will have you believe these markets are illegal. They are on public land – without payment of any Rent or Property tax. There are a group of organisers which collect some sort of protection money from each of the vendors and let them set up their stalls. MCD and police guys are taken care of by these organisers. Do you ask how? Well, it’s a puerile question.
- Unscrupulous : You bet these vendors will take any shortcuts they can to make a few extra bucks. They will sell you underweight, mix two grades of quality, show you something else and pack something else and so on. They will also have no conscience about ripening your fruits by carbide or selling you veggies grown in Yamuna bed (veggies from dirty drain – gande nale ki sabzi) They are not to blame – you are ! They are so squeezed of every penny by the market (by market here I mean the corpulent aunties haggling endlessly) that they simply have no qualms left about cheating you if they can.
- Not cheap: See my point on the “prices” in myth.
- Unethical – Please read my note on the “employment” in myths again. Do you get me now?. Let me elaborate. Due to our keen desire to exploit the short term price benefits and regularly buying from these markets, the sellers keep engaging in employment which is economically not rewarding for them, or for farmers or for you. By buying from these markets you are not allowing these people to find meaningful jobs which will lead to their economic growth and the development of the country.
For any market, only buyers need be there- sellers will automatically appear (whether in an illegal way or unscrupulous way doesn’t matter – remember the prohibition). Similarly for any market to disappear, the buyers need to be absent. The sellers will automatically disappear and engage them in something else.
Next time you have an urge to grab that bag with wheels and go strolling to the local weekly market for fresh, hold yourself for a while. Give it a thought – can I find equally good fresh produce at an organized retailer in the neigbourhood. If no neighbourhood retailer serving you quality produce exists, next best option is the vendor in the local shopping complex who is semi-organised and pricier than the street market but serves good quality. If that too doesn’t exist within a convenient distance from your home, say your prayers and commit your sin. You have no option but to buy your fresh from the weekly market. But at least you can resolve to change that, the moment you have an “organized” option.
And in NCR, an excellent option exists now – its called Frugivore. Read about us on our website. You can get your fresh from us. Conveniently, legally, scrupulously, ethically, hygienically and economically.
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