Scene 1 About 4:15 AM on Thursday. A truck crept into the Kalimati Vegetable and Fruits Market inching ahead with dozens other trucks queued along the road outside the largest vegetable market in the country. It was loaded with radish produced in Chitwan. The wholesaler at the market had bought the root vegetable at Rs. 6 per kg which he was selling at Rs. 10 per kg. But the retailers inside the Kalimati market were selling it at Rs. 16-20 per kg. The retailers somewhere in the Kathmandu Valley were charging as much as Rs. 40 for the same. Though an old analogy, the scene tells a story of unethical business rampant in the vegetable sectors which is benefitting the middlemen – collectors, wholesalers and retailers – only while the stakeholders at both the ends, farmers and consumers, are being cheated. Despite tall claims of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD), concerned departments and Kalimati Vegetable and Fruits Market Development Committee (KVFMDC) for the last many years, there is no checking of this practice which could have benefitted at least the consumers. “I sell radish at Rs. 10 per kg. If anyone buys all my stock, I clear it at Rs. 8 per kg. But the price outside the market is not my concern,” said Bhimsen Shahi Thakuri, a wholesaler of shop no. a/c 11 in Kalimati. “Retailers in the valley sometimes charge five-time high price. It is the government’s responsibility to keep the things in order,” he added. Scene 2 Consumers in the valley believe that the KVFMDC regularly conducts the pesticides test in the vegetables that come to the market. It does conduct sample tests of the vegetables every day but on Thursday morning no vegetables were sampled for the testing. Most of it was directly sent to the wholesalers and retailers instantly after unloading from the trucks and pick-ups. However, there were no Indian trucks carrying vegetables and fruits from the southern neighbour, which is the largest supplier of the green vegetables to Nepal. Many wholesalers said that the pesticide testing was occasional. Black-marketing The government has failed so far in controlling the exorbitant retail price of vegetables in the valley. While the Black Marketing law has provision to punish those who charge more than 20 per cent of the maximum retail price of any goods, vegetables are being sold at a price that is as high as 300 per cent. However, Suman Tandukar, a vegetable retailer from Kupondole, said that he did not charge the consumers more than 20 per cent than the purchased price of the goods. A jackfruit vendor said that the vegetable available at Rs. 100 per kg in Kalimati was being sold above Rs. 150 per kilo outside the Kalimati market. Cauliflower that was sold at Rs. 36 per kg inside Kalimati was bought at Rs. 20 to 22 from farmers. Sudarshan Bidari, a wholesaler in the market has a strong belief that the government should not set the price of the vegetables. “The rate of vegetables is different according to t size, quality and age. The price fluctuates multiple times even in a day,” he said. Thakuri also said that he had sold vegetables at a price less than the one set by the KVFMDC. Legal officer at the Committee Ek Narayan Aryal also said that setting the price of the perishable goods was against the international standards. But the practice goes on in Kalimati. “Vegetable and fruit market runs on the principle of ‘either sell it or smell it’. Since no one is sure about the loss factor, no one is sure about the price, too,” he said. Likewise, Khom Prasad Ghimire, President of Federation of Fruits and Vegetables Entrepreneurs Nepal blamed the weak market information system for the increasing price gaps among the supply-side actors. “This is the reason for farmers destroying their vegetable products in the frustration of not getting the fair price. It happens every year,” he said.
Indian veggies are expensive Contrary to the popular belief, Indian vegetables are more expensive than Nepali products. It’s a surprise since flooding of Indian vegetables used to slash the price of Nepali vegetables in the past while this time all the Indian items are more expensive. Nepali products like cabbage and cauliflower come at about Rs. 30 to 40 while Indian products ladies finger and bitter gourd are priced at Rs. 120 – 130. Indian tomato is also expensive. Gauri Gupta, a mobile vegetable vendor from Raxaul, India, who was leaving the market with loads of potato, onion and other vegetables on his bicycle at 5:30, said that Indian vegetables were expensive than the domestic products. However, Indian garlic is cheaper than the Chinese with Rs. 500 and Rs. 800 per kilo respectively. No farmer There is no presence of farmers in the entire Kalimati vegetable market. All the vendors – wholesalers and retailers – were traders. Even the small vendors in the farmers’ zone were traders. They just collect the vegetables from the farmers and sell it at the market. The Market Development Committee is aware of the situation. It is mulling to give away the empty 35 stalls to the farmers to that they can bring their products to the market and sell it at a price of their choice. “Middlemen had obstructed in the farmers access to the market in Kalimati. But we are set to bring some farmers to the market,” said Ram Mani Acharya, who represents the MoALD in the Committee. The vibrant vegetable market has witnessed multiple reforms in terms of parking, sanitation, pesticides checking and slot arrangement in the last couple of years, it is still struggling to manage parking space. About 600 vehicles, except two-wheelers, enter the market each day. It should be the model market in the country. The government had announced so for multiple times but it is still a far-fetched dream.