Steps urged to discourage exploitation of farmers by middleman

February 22, 2024

Arooj Zulfiqar

The persistent exploitation of farmers at the hands of middleman necessitates urgent steps to discourage this manipulation and empower growers to play their critical role in agricultural sector’s development. “For decades, middlemen have played a crucial role in connecting farmers to markets in Pakistan. However, they have also become dominant, causing a system where farmers receive a small fraction of the final retail price for their produce. These intermediaries take advantage of small-scale farmers by offering meager prices for crops and imposing unfavourable conditions,” said M Tariq, a principal scientific officer at National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC). “The farming community, which comprises 90% of subsistence farmers, heavily relies on middlemen to access essential crop inputs, such as pesticides, fertilisers and seeds. This dependence creates a power dynamic where middlemen exert control over farmers, dictating terms of trade and influencing their financial flow,” he told WealthPK. “Small-scale farmers face numerous challenges in dealing with middlemen. They lack bargaining power due to their limited access to information about market prices and alternative buyers.

Additionally, the absence of proper infrastructure and transportation facilities further exacerbates their dependency on middlemen to sell their produce,” he said. Tariq said attempts had been made in the past to reduce the role of middlemen but with little success. In 2021, the Punjab government made an effort to interconnect 132 agricultural markets to ensure fair prices of crops for farmers, but the outcomes were not sustainable, he added. The NARC scientist pointed out that the middleman system had been in place for centuries, so it was hardly impossible to completely remove it. “However, the exploitation can be managed by carefully planning financial resources and system integration in the long run.” “To boost per-acre production and feed the rapidly expanding population, we must empower our farmers to inhibit their over-reliance on the middleman in markets. All issues cannot be handled entirely by the government. Market linkages and public-private partnerships should be encouraged for outsourcing to yield better results. Efforts should be made to improve timely loan disbursement to small farmers with broader outreach through effective governance,” he suggested.

“The authorities should also make it simple and easy for farmers, including those in small towns, to get pure seed, fertiliser and pesticides. Infrastructure should be improved to link the farm with the market and beyond,” he further said. “Countrywide technologically advanced storage facilities near farms should be created or the old ones be updated to meet the requirements and avoid wastage, hence reducing reliance on middleman for market selection,” he continued. Abdul Malik, a small-scale farmer from rural Punjab, shared his point of view on the challenges. "For years, I've struggled to make ends meet due to the exploitative behaviour of middlemen. They dictate prices, impose unfair conditions, and leave us with minimal profits. We need support from the government to break free from this cycle of exploitation.” The farmer said one effective solution could be the creation of farmers' cooperatives, allowing them to collectively negotiate with buyers and secure better prices for their crops. “It's time for policymakers to listen to the voices of farmers and take concrete steps to level the playing field in the agricultural market."

INP: Credit: INP-WealthPk