Mumbai: Indian farmers and traders, opposed to the entry of private retail giants such as Wal-Mart, are building a chain of superstores as part of efforts to sell their produce directly and stop prices being set by a few big players. The effort is being backed by authorities in Maharashtra, which says infrastructure costs for the project could be subsidized.
“It’s a viable idea to counter private players, and if everything goes to plan the first of the superstores can come up in a few months,” Sunil Pawar, general-manager of Maharashtra’s agriculture marketing board, told Reuters.
Fearing the loss of livelihood, traders, farmers and small shopkeepers oppose plans by foreign and local companies to introduce western-style supermarts into India’s fragmented $350 billion market, expected to double in size by 2015.
Farmers worry the influx will lead to prices being dictated by a handful of large retailers.Their protests reflect wider social tensions in India, where private investment is frequently opposed by traders scared of new retail competition and villagers worried their land will be taken up for factories.
Maharashtra’s farmers are hoping they can take the fight to the private giants with their superstores and chain of outlets that can sell vegetables, fruits and a range of farm products.
“The idea is to gather scattered sales into a single sales channel through these farmers’ malls,” said Sopan Kanchan of the Grape Growers’ Federation of India. “Unitedly, we can take on the Wal-Marts and Reliances.”
Farming leaders are getting ready to apply for a 25% subsidy on infrastructure costs which they are eligible for under a government plan.
Building sites are being identified in some of the cities in Maharashtra for the farmers’ superstores. “There are about 350 farmers’ cooperatives in the state and they have lots of land,” Pawar said.
So far, the retail protests have been sporadic but they have forced Reliance Industries to lay off 1,000 staff and close stores in the north and east.
Foreign retail giants Carrefour have also shelved investment plans due to this uncertainty.