The Covid-19 pandemic has gripped the agricultural trades in parts of Gujarat where several traders have caught the virus fear prompting some markets to down their shutters for auctions.

In North Gujarat’s prominent grain market at Himmatnagar in Sabarkantha district, a few traders at the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) have tested positive for Covid-19 creating panic and calling for a complete closure of the market yard till July 31.

Ashok Shah, a grain merchant from Dharti Corporation in Himmatnagar, said that the Covid-19 infections were on the rise and many traders were also testing positive. “It is difficult to manage social distancing and keeping a watch over every individual if he has a mask on or not. So in the interest of farmers, traders and buyers, the auctions have been suspended till July 31,” he said.

Himmatnagar is one of the prominent marketplaces for wheat and castor trade. “Most of the grains are transported to South India, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. But currently, there are no buyers and it also involves a lot of uncertainty on payments and deliveries at far locations. Therefore, it is best to wait for situation to normalise,” said Rafiq Ahmed Vekaria, who is an office bearer of a merchants’ association at Himmatnagar.

Farmers, on the other hand, are sitting with small quantities of agri produces including wheat, maize and castor as most of the rabi season arrivals have taken place. “However, we were seeing thin supplies from farmers,” said Shah.

Odd-Even auctions

Unjha — the country’s largest jeera market — has implemented the odd-even formula with jeera (cumin seed) and isabgol (psyllium husk) auctions to take place on every alternate days i.e. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while all other commodities including fennel seeds to be auctioned on the remaining days. “The move is to reduce crowding at the mandi and avoid the spread,” said a note from the Unjha market authorities.

In Saurashtra, Mahuva market yard in Bhavnagar district has also announced a 10-day shutdown amid the Covid-19 scare. The APMC authorities of Mahuva market announced suspension of operations from July 16-27. However, fresh vegetable auctions will continue, a notice by the yard authorities said.

Mahuva is one of the largest onion markets for white and red varieties in the country. But most of the crop had already arrived and very few farmers were bringing their produce for auctions. As the small town had started witnessing daily new Covid-19 cases, the authorities decided to suspend the auctions to avoid gatherings at the market yard for the next 10 days.

However, other market yards in Saurashtra are functioning without any disruptions. “Except Mahuva, all market yards across Saurashtra are functioning. But we can’t predict the outbreak of the infections. So as long as the situation is favourable, these APMCs will continue to operate,” said Atul Kamani, President of Commission Agents’ Association in Rajkot.

‘Sufficient produce’

During the nation-wide lockdown in March-April, farmers were left with huge unsold produces with them putting them into distress. But this time, with most of the crops already being auctioned or in the process to get transferred to the buyers, APMCs don’t see any trouble for farmers.

The authorities don’t suspect any shortages of grains or agri produces. “There is sufficient stocks at each level of the supply chain. The suspension in auctions won’t cause any shortage in supplies,” said Vekaria from Himmatnagar, adding that the situation is grim and traders needed to protect themselves with this lockdown.