COVID-19 has given a boost to e-NAM, the national digital platform for agricultural trade, with the number of connected mandis, or wholesale markets, up 65% since the lockdown, according to Agriculture Ministry data.
On Monday, 177 more mandis joined the platform, taking the total to 962 nationwide, giving farmers and traders another option at a time when transport disruptions and social distancing requirements have made physical mandi trade more difficult.
The National Agricultural Market (e-NAM) is a pan-India electronic trading portal which networks the almost 7,000 existing mandis run by Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities, with a promise to promote real-time price discovery based on actual supply and demand.
It was launched in April 2016 but progress was slow, especially as many States did not amend their APMC Acts; most farmers were not part of the cooperatives that would help aggregate the bulk quantity of produce needed to interest online buyers and most mandis did not possess the infrastructure to make the most of the platform.
By January 2019, when the first inter-State trade took place, there were only 585 mandis connected to the platform, although the Agriculture Ministry promised to integrate 415 more mandis by March 2020. At the end of March 2020, however, the number of markets connected to e-NAM still remained stagnant at 585, even as the nation went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and hundreds of mandis shut their physical gates.
The Centre recognised the potential of e-NAM in overcoming some of the hurdles of the lockdown, and introduced some important new features in April: a trading module allowing Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) to trade produce directly from their collection centres without bringing it to mandis, a warehouse-based trading module and a logistics module offering users trackable transport facilities through aggregators with access to 11 lakh trucks.
On May 1, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar integrated 200 new mandis with the platform.
On May 11, another 177 mandis were integrated. As of May 9, 150 commodities with produce collectively worth more than ₹1 lakh crore had been traded on the e-NAM platform, according to an official statement, although 236 mandis have actually participated in inter-mandi trade across 12 States.
The user base remains at a nascent stage, with 1.66 crore farmers, 1.3 lakh traders and 71,911 commission agents registered on the platform. There are more than 13 crore farmers in India. However, an encouraging sign is the more than 1,000 FPOs which are registered on the platform, providing access to their members.