How a newspaper's timely info, social media saved Maharashtra's Soyabean farmers from losses
A story of how timely market intelligence can help farmers.
This harvest season, soyabean growing farmers from Maharashtra were facing imminent doom as speculation around a drop in prices was making rounds in markets. But fortunately, the farmers benefited from the extensive coverage given to oilseed price fluctuation by Marathi agro-daily Agrowon and following discussions by aware social media users and agri experts on these platforms.
This year's season was marked by a record high price of Rs. 11,000 per quintal fetched by soyabean, but as procurement picked up, speculation began forecasting a severe dip in rates, which could have resulted in farmers selling their crop in panic. The rates were predicted to fall as low as Rs. 3000. But even after a stretched procurement season, on Saturday, soyabean fetched a procurement price Rs. 7,230 per quintal at the Hingoli APMC, according to the Maharashtra State Agricultural marketing board website. This week reportedly offered Rs.7,000 to 8,000 per quintal price at different APMCs across Maharashtra. How did this happen?
Raju Dhote from Watkhade sold his soybean at Rs. 7,015 per quintal to Mahaveer Traders at MIDC in Yavatmal. Dalake Trading from Daryapur offered Rs. 8,550 per quintal price to farmers. Ganesh Shankar Sanguldakar, a farmer from Babhulgaon, could get Rs. 8,300 per quintal for his oilseed at Akola APMC. All transactions took place on 23 November 2021.
“This year, I was following the Soyabean news stories since the sale receipts of soyabean selling at the historical price of Rs. 11,000 per quintal and above in a few APMCs went viral on Facebook and other social media. After which the sudden dip in the price took place, but Agrowon was the only daily which could help me to form my decision not to sell the commodity in a hurry facing a huge loss,” says Bharat Gore, a young farmer from Parbhani district in Marathwada.
"Agrowon was the only daily which could help me to form my decision not to sell the commodity in a hurry facing a huge loss.”
Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) are the marketing boards established by the state governments to eliminate the exploitation of the farmers by the intermediaries, where they are forced to sell their produce at low prices.
Bharat too mentions Agrowon, the lone Marathi daily dedicated to agricultural news and noted for its ground coverage of farming issues and science-based agriculture advice in Maharashtra.
Ramesh Abdal, another farmer from Phulwadi in Jalna District, shares the story of the soyabean price fluctuation episode, “I actively use social media to find information about agriculture, especially on selling my commodity in the market. Unfortunately, I found all general coverage in the media when the Soybean hit the low price by almost 2,000 rupees per quintal this September.'' He further explained, saying that, ''We don't expect media reporting should be perfect for foreseeing the future price of the commodity. Still, when you report a story with baseless comments, it adds more into a panic situation."
Soyabean is a Kharif crop for farmers, majorly in the Marathwada and Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. At the beginning of the season, the oilseed was trading above its government-declared Minimum Support Price (MSP) of Rs 3,950 per quintal. Soyabean reportedly sold a historical high above 11,000 per quintal, and the receipts of this limited-time deal went viral on social media. The hovering price could not last for long as the soyabean prices started decreasing in September by almost Rs 2,000 per quintal and further dip added panic in farmers.
The poultry industry faced a shortage of soya feeds and that added to the disasters. Soyameal is left over after oil is extracted from the beans, acts as a staple and main protein ingredient in the feed, especially for broilers. In January last year, rumour spread that covid could be spread by eating chicken meat led to a crash in demand.
The representatives from the Poultry industry had led to the government allowing the import of 12 lakh tonnes of genetically modified soya meal, which was cited as one of the reasons why Soyabean prices faced a dip here in the local market.
In October this year, the government reduced basic customs duty on crude palm oil, crude soya-bean oil and crude sunflower seed oil from 2.5 percent to zero. The Central Board on Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) also decreased agriculture cess on both crude soya-bean oil and crude sunflower oil from 20 percent to 5 percent, effective till March 2022.
The government reduced the import duty and imposed stock limits on edible oils and oilseeds to relieve the consumers. But it could worsen the Soyabean price dip in the local market, hitting farmers. The soybean crop harvest was adversely affected due to the excessive rain and flood situations in Maharashtra.
In Maharashtra, farmers also reportedly brought more soybean to the market ahead of the Diwali festival and to pay back local money lenders to save on loan interest.
While the oilseed was facing a dip, the Marathi daily Agrowon helped farmers to get timely information. Following the extensive coverage given to the commodity, the public sphere on social media also discussed the soyabean price crash and the viable advice to farmers not to follow the panic sale of the oilseeds and wait for the right time.
“Agriculture Intelligence includes providing relevant and timely information to farmers for a farming cycle from sowing till post-harvest."
While commenting on the critically acclaimed convergent media coverage of Soyabean story in Newspaper and Digital platform, Content Chief for Agrowon Digital Ramesh Jadhav said, “Agriculture Intelligence includes providing relevant and timely information to farmers for a farming cycle from sowing till post-harvest. The next part is Marketing intelligence, where farmers need information on the current price of the commodity and advice to sell or hold it back. The way we covered the Soyabean story this time is part of Marketing Intelligence.”
When asked about the media coverage given to commodity price stories in the mainstream media, he said, “Agriculture Journalism is not only about reporting technical information in farming. Another way to look at this is to report on the government policy for commodity import and export and its impact on farmers and consumers, which I believe is also part of political communication. Unfortunately, mainstream media has not been able to find space for this approach to report on agriculture.
Sachin Gawali is a farmer from Rohina village in Partur. He is actively involved in using social media to know about agriculture issues to debate and discuss. When asked about the soyabean issue this year, he said, “Ahead of the Diwali festival, local traders started exploiting farmers by offering low prices. Farmers needed money, and they had to sell the crop. Poor farmers here don't enjoy having the capacity to hold for too long. He added, saying, “Here is the bright side of social media where agriculture experts shared some data and facts which could help those farmers who could wait for the right time to sell the commodity.
Krishna Shinde, a primary school teacher and a farming enthusiast, shares his experience of reading Agrowon and following its digital media platforms on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. “This is the first time I see young farmers like me using social media to decide whether to sell commodities or not. I am an avid reader of Agrowon and its market price bulletin and a short analysis worth following.”, said Krishna.
Agrowon has followed the story since last year when soybean was getting a historic high price due to global demand and less stock available to farmers for selling in the market. The crux of the whole story revolves around the government's delayed decision to allow the import for a long time. It was approved all of a sudden when the new harvest season of soyabean was about to start.
Jadhav points out, “We reported this whole coverage on the factual ground like the government imposing stock limit at the beginning of the season, import of genetically modified Soyabfeed, global demand-supply equation, high demand of Soyabean de-oiled cake. We could read from all of this that soyabean prices may improve for farmers if they stop the panic sale.”
There is mushrooming of web portals and platforms giving false hope to farmers.
In the dearth of mainstream media not reporting extensively on commodity prices, there is mushrooming of web portals and platforms giving false hope to farmers.
Jadhav warns about this saying, “The bright side of social media comes with enormous possibilities that now farmers have a fair chance to exchange information and access resources. At the same time, unauthorised sources like enthusiastic Youtubers may spread false information and claims for future prices of any commodity. ”
He further states that “This type of pursuit of commodity reporting obviously comes with considering the political side and governments policy decisions. We can not exclude politics from it because when farmers, consumers are aware of any issue, they discuss it. It makes an impact on the government’s decision. Maharashtra state recently announced that there will not be a stock limit on oilseeds and soyabean. This will help farmers in getting a fair price for the commodity.”
In a bid to bring edible oil prices to normal especially during Diwali as many as 18 states were in the process of imposing stock holding limits on oilseeds and edible oil after being empowered by the Centre. While Uttarpradesh has already imposed a stock limit, the Maharashtra government declared no stock holding limit on Soyabean.