The Azadpur agri-supply chain

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Claimed to be Asia’s biggest agri-market, the Azadpur Mandi (agri-market) on the outskirts of Delhi is backed by an efficient supply chain.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

Sunil Jaiswal has clocked good speeds to reach the Azadpur Mandi (agri-market) on the outskirts of Delhi. He is tense as the truck he has piloted from Himachal Pradesh is loaded with 11-tonnes of Apples. They have a limited shelf life, and are expensive. At the wheel of his Ashok Leyland Comet Gold, Jaiswal has reached the Mandi at one past midnight. He is looking tired. Negotiating a long queue of trucks entering what is claimed to be the biggest agricultural-produce market in Asia, Jaiswal has reached the market during the peak season for apples. Like him, there are numerous others that have ferried apples to the Mandi. Even in the dead of the night, it does not take long to understand that the fruit is in demand. With hopes high for a good price, trucks laden with apples are lining up in the Mandi for a quick deal. It is a continuous activity as more and more trucks continue to pour in. Their headlamps cut through the darkness.

Claimed to have an estimated flow of 5000-8000 trucks per day, the Azadpur Mandi on the outskirts of Delhi comes to life as the capital city goes to sleep. Reflecting a supply chain that is well oiled and fairly efficient, the flow of trucks across the market, spread over 80 acres, is simply humongous. Trucks of varied sizes find their way to the agri-market. From a tiny Tata Ace to a heavy 31-tonne rigid truck, and an occasional tractor-trailer, there’s a large count of trucks that bring fruits, vegetables, onions and potatoes, spices, food grains, and more from across the country. Imported agri-produce also finds its way to the market. If trucks laden with apples seem to crowd the market, there are trucks that have ferried pineapples and many other fruits too. A 15-tonne truck moves past. It is laden with onions. As it reverses into the slot, labourers like an army of ants begin unloading of the produce. A chat with the truck driver reveals that he has come all the way from Nashik. It has taken him two days to reach here. With onions having a limited shelf life, it is essential that they be ferried to the market within the shortest time possible. Two drivers have taken turns to pilot this truck in order to reach in time. The disappearance of border checks has made it easy and more efficient to travel. Avers the driver that he regularly ferries onions in his truck to this market. The trade, he mentions, is pre-negotiated by the consignee and the trader. His job is to simply ferry the goods. Apart from a large number of labourers, the people that make the Azadpur Mandi tick are the security men, administration staff, traders, labourers, drivers, and many others.

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A market of national importance, the Azadpur Mandi clocks up to 23,000 transactions per day according to the market sources. The market witnesses a peak season between July and December. The most traded, claim sources are apples. These, they mention, come from Jammu and Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh. Grapes, pomegranates and bananas come from Maharashtra; Pineapples and ginger come from Nagaland and West Bengal. Having a limited shelf life, especially spinach and other leafy vegetables, the supply chain that connects with the Azadpur Mandi is about speed and efficiency. Lighter and faster trucks of 3.5-tonne are preferred to ferry vegetables from the neighbouring states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Where the need to keep moving is important, two drivers take turns to ensure an uninterrupted journey.

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Ferrying potatoes from Uttar Pradesh (UP) in a 37-tonne rigid truck, Ramprasad mentions that the disappearance of border checks has made it easier to clock good times. Infrastructure at many places has improved, he quips. Including potatoes, a total of 118 commodities are traded at the Azadpur APMC market. These include over 50 varieties of fruits, and over 68 vegetable varieties. State sources that over 60 per cent of apples produced in Jammu and Kashmir are traded here. The lean season is from January to June, and has up to 5000 trucks finding their way to this market every day. With fruits like Mango and Lithchi finding their way to the market regularly from UP and Bihar respectively during the lean season, the amount of combined fruits and vegetables inflow during the last fiscal was a massive 47.7 metric tonnes. This was led by apples at 5.89 metric tonnes. Divided into four blocks – A, B, C, and D, the Azadpur Mandi houses a total of 1366 shops. Operating without a break, the most activity happens between midnight and early morning. Of late, the market, reveals a source, has witnessed some fluctuation in trade as agri-producing regions were hit by natural calamities like floods and drought. This affected the supply chain as trucks ferrying the agri-produce could not reach the market in time. States a trader that they are hoping for a good bumper crop. Drawing attention to less inflow of mangoes, he expresses that the inflow of apples looks good this year.

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The flow

The flood situation in Bihar has reduced the amount of trucks ferrying agri-produce from that region. Such calamities have an effect on the business mentions a trader. A trucker who has ferried potatoes from UP mentions that his business has slowed down. It has been some time and he has not been able to travel to Bihar to ferry agri-produce from there to this market. Stressing upon the need to ferry the produce in the least possible time given the tendency to perish, situations like these, he avers, make it very risky and difficult to do business. With many commodities seasonal in nature, calamities have a hard hitting effect. Happy to have received 11-tonnes of apples in a Tata 1613, a trader at the Azadpur Mandi is also worried at the same time. A consignment of pomegranates from Solapur is delayed. It is now well over two days that it takes for it to arrive. Heavy rains in transit are said to have caused the delay. It needs to be seen if rains have caused any adverse damage to the goods.

Not many shops away, an agent is off-loading a consignment of apples from a Tata 2416 truck. They have come from Himachal Pradesh with the journey extending over one day and two nights. Of the 24-tonne worth of produce, 20-tonnes will soon find its way to a trader at Mumbai. The rest of the produce has been purchased by a local vendor Amritesh. He has hired two Tata Ace and a Mahindra Maxxitruck to ferry the produce to his location at Janakpuri in Delhi. An hour later, Amritesh strikes another deal. This time with another trader for the purchase of pomegranates. He quickly hires four labourers for Rs.200 each to load seven-tonnes worth of pomegranates in the truck that he has hired. It is 5 am, and Amritesh rides the truck to his place. He will sell a part of what he has produced across a few retail outlets he has come to own. He also supplies his produce to a hotel and a hospital in his locality.

From Jalandhar, a SML Isuzu Sartaj has ferried nine-tonnes of potatoes. The farmer has accompanied the produce and is keen to strike a deal quickly. Visiting the market a little over once in four weeks, the farmer set out for the market approximately 10 hours ago. Not far from here, a 22-tonne Ashok Leyland truck has travelled from Tamil Nadu. It has ferried pineapples. The trader is happy as the truck has arrived ahead of schedule. He signals his subordinate to get the truck to back up into the unloading bay. Soon a flurry of activity is witnessed as labourers start unloading the pineapples. States the driver of the truck in halting Hindi that it has taken him a little over three days and nights to arrive here. In less than an hour, the trader has struck a deal with a smaller trader. In no time, a Piaggio Ape and Tata Ace line up. They are loaded with pineapples, which will be supplied to the smaller markets across the national capital.

With 16-tonnes worth of potatoes being sold off in a few hours after arriving at the market, it is a game of demand-supply states a commission agent. It is demand that dictates the price. If the demand is less, it can take longer to sell. The amount of risk is directly proportional. Over the years we’ve learnt to judge the extend of risks involved, and accordingly conduct the trade mentions an agent. As the day breaks, the amount of activity reduces. It does not halt however. During the day, trucks carrying food grains and spices find their way to the market. Refrigerated trucks are seen coming into the market. Explains a trader that such trucks transport highly perishable goods like peas, which cannot withstand heat. The demand for refrigerated trucks increases in the summer months. Refrigerated trucks are used to ferry agri-produce that has been imported, or is exported. The call for quality makes it essential to use such trucks. The demand for refrigerated trucks is said to go down conversely during the winter months.

To ensure supply chain efficiency, the Azadpur market, mentions a source, has invested in seven cold storages. Traders dealing in various commodities that require temperature controlled environment use these. Imported apples, grapes, and pears call for an amount of care. To store these, traders often use the cold storage facilities the market body has invested in. These fruits are imported from Thailand, California, China among other places says a source.

Organised trading

Set up with an aim of facilitate the marketing of Fruits & Vegetables (F&V), and to implement a regulation that will safeguard the interest of farmers, producers, sellers and consumers in the country, the Azadpur Mandi operates under the Delhi Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation) Act, 1998 (Delhi Act No. 7 of 1999) and Delhi Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation) General Rules 2000. The market was established in 1975 by Delhi Development Authority, and maintained by it till December 01, 1979. Thereafter it is operated by the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC). The APMC set up a New Fruit Mandi (NFM), and divided the principal yard into three parts (New SubziMandi (NSM), Cement Godown Area and New Fruit Mandi (NFM)).

The Kela siding is part of a land which has been taken on lease from Indian Railways to conduct the trade of bananas, oranges and mangoes. Commodities here are transported in railway wagons from many places in India. Issuing licenses in 1976 for shops in various blocks to trade legally, a fee of one per cent is charged by the APMC on the total sale value of the commodity. On the basis of the arrival of commodity and revenue paid to the government, the shopkeepers have been allotted ‘phars’. Each ‘phar’ handles commodities in lieu with the market fees paid by them, reveals a source. Since bulk quantities are traded, the number of trucks that arrive every day is proving to be far more than the space available to conduct the trade. Compared to the earlier times, the flow of trucks has increased. Traffic jams and bottlenecks are increasingly becoming a regular happening at the market. Thankfully, says a source, commodities like papita and chickoo do not take large spaces to trade. Their quantity is as big as some other fruits. The commission agents charge up to six per cent of the trade. Farmers supplying their produce to the market have to operate through them. The number of licensed commission agents is said to be close to 2100.

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Okhla sub-yard

The Azadpur APMC also operates a sub-yard at Okhla. It is spread over an area of 10 acres, and includes 50 big and 218 small shops. Over 118 commodities are traded here. There are 191 commission agents. Serving largely as a local market in South Delhi, the sub-yard is said to source commodities directly from regions like Haryana and UP. The quantity of vegetables traded at the yard is more than the fruits, claims an agent. Established in 1987 by DDA, the sub-yard was later handed over to the APMC to operate. Witnessing the arrival of over 47 metric tonnes of commodities every year on an average, the Azadpur Mandi and Okhla sub-yard continue to successfully conduct business. Given the nature of commodities, waste disposal is a challenge. It does happen that the produce gets spoilt, states an agent. It is part of the risk of doing business.

To dispose spoilt produce is a challenge, he mentions. Putting the amount to less than one per cent of what is traded, the source avers that it is a cumbersome task to dispose the waste. Backhoe loaders have been provided for the task. Insists an APMC source that the market is cleaned every evening. A major clean up takes place every Sunday, they say, as the market stays closed. Only small vegetable trades are conducted on Sundays. With over 8000 trucks finding their way to the Azadpur Mandi every day during peak season, it results in humonguous operations. In the absence of an efficient supply chain that is majorly made up of trucks of various types, the agri-market would not be what it is. Deploying 250 people in association with the traffic police to manage the traffic inside the market premises, the APMC, according to a source, is taking various measures to facilitate a better buying and selling experience for all those involved. It is 5 pm, and the market is not at its peak for certain. Activity however is visible as trucks laden with food grains and spices continue to roll into the market. This market never sleeps, avers a source. He quips that neither does the arrival and departure of trucks cease ever.