The lovers of Free Market and Walmart say that bringing in Walmart and letting it build economies of scale by edging out domestic , rapacious middlemen and using cold chain infrastructure of its own to transfer vegetables from distant farms to stores in say New Delhi will be the ultimate win-win situation for the farmer as well as the consumer.I have a few questions on this sunny scenario.Which are related to , in some roundabout way to the satisfaction that I get from buying fresh local produce from the weekly kisan mandi or the joy I get from cutting a bunch of paalak from my backyard .
- First off is the fate of the farmer .The farmer in this Walmart Model is a direct supplier of a commodity.Today Walmart will pay a higher price for his tomatoes or cucumbers as the idea is to remove the existing buyers out of the picture.They have big pockets they can afford to out -buy them.But how long will this Honeymoon last ? As corn growers in US and banana sellers in Nicaragua have found once the cartel is dominated by the Retail Giant,the standards of produce quality are raised and prices are lowered.By then the farmer has got so used to the input heavy,Walmart style of Contract Farming that he is locked in that cycle and there are no other buyers in town. The loss of soil fertility and resultant crop failure would only lead Walmart to greener pastures but would ruin the farmer . Case in point the suicide epidemic among BT cotton farmers of Vidarbha – presided over by Monsanto.True there is a lot to do to save the Indian Farmer . But making Walmart the King of the Agricultural Cartel and fondly hoping that they will hold hands and wipe tears is highly foolish .As International Experience with Walmart amply bears out. If you can not reform the existing middleman system, bring a bigger Middleman with deeper pockets !!! What kind of Policy is that ?
- Second is the bullshit on Infrastructure .Cold chains need Power.Processing food needs ditto.Which is a scarce commodity in rural India.So to make this functional Walmart will definitely obtain cheap Power concessions from Governments. Which would mean a worse off situation for the hapless citizen. So remember when you say Power To Free Market : it may literally mean that !!
- Third any scheme that moves towards displacing a decentralized ,low cost ,multi-layered retail system of mandis, bazzars, haats, street vendors,door to door carters by a Real Estate heavy ,Resources and power Intensive system of Superstores is illogical and foolish for a third world country with Unemployed millions.I don’t know about you but I already have had enough of Malls -which apart from cornering up prime Real Estate , are samely boring in every city. You want even more of that ? Really ?? Try organizing a Farmer’s market and feel the difference.
- Fourth, in this whole super-efficient and attractive sounding Walmart sponsored Farm to Fork scheme ,we as Consumers lose out a lot in terms of Food Quality.Even now at Superstores ,one may get California Strawberries and Fuji Apples but to get bursting with freshness ,seasonal produce you need to grow your own garden or seek out a farm near you. The mandi may be having pesticide ridden produce too ,but at present there still remain in countryside ,pockets of agriculture that are free from the taint .Post Walmartisation – and the resulting mad scramble for cheapest food -the task will become impossible.We are a primarily Vegetarian country .Our cuisines require a lot of fresh produce.If you as Consumer make a choice to eat produce grown on depleted soils in monocultures on factory farms , ferried over great distances ,processed in various ways ,you get some convenience ,yes ,the retailer gets a lot of profit,yes ; but what do you lose on taste, Nutrition and Health ??
Profits and convenience are not and should not be the sole arbiters of what we grow, how we grow it .In the long run it is bad for the farmer ,for the soil and for the eater as well .