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(A test case)

Navli's Cabbage Cultivation

M.J. Arul

Navli grows three varieties of cabbages: early, medium and late. The early variety matures in 45 days after transplantation and the medium after 60 days, the late after 90 days. Of the 300 farmers who grow cabbages in Navli, not more than 4 have ever cultivated the late (drumhead) variety.

Cabbage Calendar (approximate timings)
Variety -->

(Wt. of head:500 gms*)
(Wt. of head: 3-5 kgs*)
(Wt. of head: 3-5 kgs*)
Preparation of seed-bed soil and sowing September 10-15 September 15-20 December August 20-
Preparation of field and transplanting October 10- October 15- January October 5-
First Harvest November 20- December 15- March -
Final Harvest December February April March-April
Note: Seedlings must be transplanted by the time they develop 4-6 leaves. Late transplanting severely reduces the plant's likelihood of growth to maturity.

*Consumers are believed to prefer cabbage heads weighing 600-800 gms.

The seeds of all these varieties are produced in Srinagar, set amongst the mountains of Jammu & Kashmir, some 2,000 km north of Navli. Agents of various seed producing companies (whose seeds are known by the company names) contact the Navli co-op and supply seeds against orders. Sheela, Sultan, Sutton, Sanjog, Pandit and Drumhead are the names of cabbage seeds used in Navli. Sutton has an early-maturing variety and also a medium-maturing variety. All the other seeds, excepting Drumhead, are of the medium variety.

Irrigation: Cabbage requires a continuous supply of moisture for its development. The crop is irrigated once every 10-15 days. Navli cabbages are pump irrigated. The village has 37 electric-powered pumps, each probably capable of irrigating 20-25 acres in the post-monsoon season, but only 5-10 acres in the hot season. Farmers who don't own a pump buy pumped water at ten rupees per hour. As the cabbage heads begin to mature, irrigation is reduced. Heavy irrigation after the heads are well developed is detrimental to the crop--the heads burst open within 24 hours.

Fertilisers: Cabbage is a cool-weather crop and is grown during the winter months. If the season is not cool during the growing period, the plants will fail to form heads or the formed heads will bolt. Cabbage is a heavy feeder; its intake of nutrients, especially nitrogen, is very high. The recommended per-hectare doses are: N=75 kgs, P=37.5 kg, K=37.5 kgs, and 20 to 25 tonnes of FYM. Most farmers in Navli own animals. The dung is applied to the fields during June-July, when crops like Bajra are grown. By September, therefore, there is not much dung left. (In the last two years four farmers have installed a gobar-gas plant each for their domestic use).

The village co-operative markets seeds, fertilisers and pesticides. The Village Level Worker is responsible for extension service (i.e.: teaching good agricultural practices). He prepares a chart of recommended practices and displays it at the Panchayat building at the beginning of each season.

Harvesting: When the heads are fully grown and are compact, they are ready to be harvested. The heads split open if harvesting is delayed--although this can be delayed by a few days by deep cultivation and by twisting the mature plant while it is still in the ground, loosening the root structure and slowing down the plant's growth system. Some of the producers harvest cabbage heads before maturity deliberately, so as to sell in the local market when cabbages are scarce and fetch a good price. But most Navli farmers believe that the fall in prices in the peak season is compensated by the greater weight of the full-grown heads. Early cash rather than more cash, they say, is a more plausible reason for plucking cabbages before maturity.

Quality: The quality of cabbage is judged by its "healthy" colour, compactness (or firmness), shrink-freeness--and worm-freeness, indicated by absence of holes. The co-op does not, however, grade the cabbages which it accepts for truck-marketing. The private truckers don't grade the cabbages, either. It is the dalal who decides the quality of the cabbages he buys.

Storage: When kept cool and moist, cabbages can store for several weeks after harvest. Controlling the temperature at 32 to 35o F, with moderate humidity, can keep cabbages in good condition for 3-4 months. Cabbage heads which are too ripe do not keep well in storage, nor do immature heads. The cabbages for storage must be free of bruises, insects and worms. Navli does not have cold-storage facilities. The nearest coldstore is 18 km away. It is used to store potatoes from March to October (early crop) and April to November (regular crop).

Diseases: The common pests that afflict cabbages are flee beetles, aphids* and cabbage worms.** Flee beetles damage the young plants; the other pests cause trouble later in the season. * = "Mala masi"; **="Eeyer".

Nutrient content: The cabbage contains vitamin A and B; it is rich in Vitamin C. It is cooling in effect and helps in preventing constipation, increases appetite, speeds up digestion and is very useful for people with diabetes. (Yawalker p. 37)

Storage of potatoes: The best method of storing the potato is the cold storage. (In 1961 there were 361 cold storages in India, with a total capacity of nearly ten million maunds). The temperature needed for such storage is 36 to 38o F and the relative humidity must be 75 to 80 per cent. Potatoes stored at 30 to 32o F suffer from internal breakdown known as "Black Heart."

The indigenous methods of storing potatoes are room storage and pit storage. In room storage potatoes are stored in single layers on sand. Frequent examinations are necessary to discard tubers showing rotting symptoms. In pit storage method, the tubers are stored in pits of 2 to 2.5 ft deep, 8 ft long and 3 ft wide. These pits are made in some cool shady place. Water is sprinkled inside the pit to cool it. After two days the pit is lined from inside with neem leaves, dry grass or sugarcane trash. Bamboo chimneys of 4 to 5 ft length are placed inside the pit t to 4 ft apart from facilitating evaporation of the moisture deposited due to transpiration of the stored tubers. Pits are then filled with tubers upto 6 inch from the top followed by one foot layer of trash. A thatch is provided over the pit as protection from rain and sun."

Navli Service Co-operative Society Limited

Navli village is eight kilometers south of Anand, a total population of 6200. Of the 992 households, 610 are Patel, 140 are Baraiya, 72 are Christians and 65 are Kachhiyas. There are ten more communities in the village, each with 4 to 25 households.

Navli is just five minutes walk from the nearest state highway and there is a regular State Transport bus service between Anand and navli. The village has a Primary Health Centre, a gram-panchayat dispensary, a private dispensary, a kindergarten, two primary schools and a high-school. There are also three tobacco factories. There is a milk co-op with an AI Centre and a "multi-purpose" co-op.

The co-op: Until 1962, Navli had had a co-operative consumers' store, but it went bankrupt in 1962. In order to meet the needs of the farmers in the village, a "multi-purpose" co-op was started and registered in November, 1962, in the name of "Sewa Sahakari Mandali Limited, Navli." The co-op used to sell such items as sugar, oil and cloth in its early days, when the milk co-op used to supply fertilisers and pesticides. Later, the multi-purpose co-op took over these items and also began to supply bajra and cabbage seeds. Of late, it has started providing credit also to the farmers. The Secretary, in the course of a conversation with us, said, "We are thinking of stopping fertilisers and pesticides now, because it is difficult for us to store them; a lot of these bags lie idle and go bad."

Although traditional food-grains, vegetables and tobacco are grown in Navli, the village is known for its cabbages, which it has grown for nearly forty years now. During this period, more and more tobacco land has gradually been turned over to cabbage cultivation. Small landholdings, shorter maturity periods and better economic viability are believed to have been the factors contributing to this shift. Navli farmers also grow cauliflower and brinjal: i.e. egg plant/aubergine. The latter can be sown in June for early harvesting, although it is more frequently sown in August for harvesting in October/November; late sowings can also be made in January, although this is not very often done.

Cauliflowers are usually sown in July/August for harvesting in October/November. Although Navli's brinjals and cauliflowers are deemed to be of good quality, it is cabbages that the village is renowned for -- as far away as Bombay City, some 500 km south of Navli.

Some Navli farmers start raising cabbage seedlings toward the end of August: "But, you know, this is like the lottery; if heavy rains come, the whole thing is washed out and we are doomed. Because of this risk, most of us wait until the monsoon is over."

Some Navli cabbages are sold in local markets, as well as in Bombay, Bhopal etc. Cabbages are "truck-marketed" both by the co-op and by private individuals. During the peak season, more cultivators (both members of the co-op as well as non-members) market their produce through the co-op than in the lean season. Private truckers operate at all times. Very early in the cabbage season (as well as at its fag-end), most of the producers (including some co-op members) market their produce through private truckers. Two reasons are offered for this: (i) More profit if trucked through private individuals and (ii) The co-op does not start truck marketing until it gets sufficient truckloads -- and this wait is not suitable for all the producers.

The co-op has fixed relations with a few dalals (traders) in Bombay. Cabbages are trucked to any one or more of these middlemen, who receive the trucks, quickly examine and buy the contents for the price he/they fix(es). No representative of the co-op ever accompanies the trucks. In the case of private truckers, the man who hires the truck (usually a cabbage cultivator) always accompanies the driver and negotiates the sale face-to-face with a dalal of his on-the-spot choice. These private traders almost always manage to sell their truckloads at a rate which is 5-10 paise per kg. higher than the price which the co-op gets for its cabbages.

A truckload consists of 120 to 125 bags. An average bag contains 60 kgs of cabbage heads. Moreover, overloading the trucks is not a particularly unacceptable practice among the private traders. Thus, the farmers who market their cabbages privately say that they get more money for their cabbages than by marketing them through the co-ops. They also say that the money reaches them faster this way, because the co-op can pay only after the dalal in Bombay confirms his purchase by mail.

A cabbage grower-cum-private trucker (now "retired") said: "Only the sluggish chaps market their produce regularly through the co-operative. You see, going to a private trucker involves a little bit of running about and an occasional risk of not being accommodated. Some lethargic guys prefer the co-op., because it involves no botheration."

The Secretary of the co-operative, who has had the job for 10 years, is a 28 year-old cultivator whose family has 8 hectares of land. He grows cabbages for the market himself. Talking with the case-writer, he said:

"Ours is multipurpose co-operative society, but dealing mainly in vegetable marketing, with most emphasis on cabbage cultivation and marketing. Our cabbages have been very famous for about 20 years now. Hence only we started this society to do marketing. We normally sell our cabbages in Bombay."

"Why do you say, Normally? Do you sell in other markets, too?"

"Why does the co-op not sell in Anand, Baroda or Ahmedabad? Don't you feel that your members may get more profit by selling personally their vegetable produce in these markets?"

"Anand has 100,000 population, Baroda has 500,000; even Ahmedabad has only 18,00,000. These are small vegetable markets, compared to Bombay which has a population of 6 million. Anand and Baroda cannot purchase our whole crop. The Ahmedabad vegetable market procures from nearby villages, so our cabbage price may be too high for them."

"How do you collect the vegetable from the members?"

"The members are normally intimated 3-4 days in advance -- before a truck is booked for Bombay. They are also requested to register the quantity they want to sell at Bombay market. The truck normally arrives at 4.00 p.m. in the evening. On that day, in the morning, members start bringing their produce to the co-op, packed in jute bags."

"Do you prescribe any quantity of vegetable which should be packed in each bag? Do you also ask them to pack cabbages according to their quality?"

"Actually no specification is given to members about quantity of the vegetable to be packed. They fill the bags according to the availability of different size bags. They do not pack bags according to the quality. It is mix packing."

"If you don't ask the members to pack a specific quantity of vegetables and no quality-wise packing is done, how is the price determined at the Bombay Market?"

"We have fixed a Dalal in Bombay who receives the truck and he bargains on our behalf. The price is thus set for the whole truck-load."

"So, the members who produce better-quality cabbages may get the same price as those who produce poor quality cabbages?"

"Yes, that is correct."

"How can you know that the price determined by the Dalal is right and that he has no vested interests?"

"We rely totally on the Dalal. Whatever price he gets we have to accept, because we cannot afford to bring the cabbages back."

"Do you know how much margin the Dalal makes, out of this business? Do you know at what price the wholesalers sell these cabbages?"

"Our Bombay Dalal gets 8% dalali on the sale value. We do not bother about how much the wholesaler and retailers earn out of it."

"When do you pay your members for their produce sold in Bombay market?"

"If a member is in urgent need, then we pay him at the time when he brings his produce to the co-op for Bombay. Otherwise, after two days, when we get the telegram from Bombay about the total quantity sold and value earned by us from the sale."

"How do you determine/calculate the price to be paid to the members?"

"From the value earned at Bombay market, we deduct 8% dalali, then transport cost per kg, portage at village and Bombay market, and then we calculate the price per kg. and distribute it to the members according to the quantity which they have supplied."

"Doesn't your co-op take any commission?"

"Of course, our society takes some commission. Otherwise, how can it survive? It takes a lumpsum commission per truck: if it is two trucks on the same day, then Rs.40-60 per truck--otherwise, Rs.40 per truck."


An Ahmedabad housewife had the following to say about cabbage retail prices in Ahmedabad: "Toward the end of August, Rs. 8/- per kg. Come September, it goes down to Rs.6/- or Rs.5/- per kg. During October and November, it is Rs.5/- to Rs. 4/- per kg. December and January: around 0.75p. to Re.1.00 per kg. February and March, Rs.3/- per kg. April and May, it goes up to Rs.4/- to Rs.5/- --and during June and July, cabbage simply disappears."


A Bombay housewife, talking about cabbage prices and availability, gave the case writer the following information: "It is a seasonal thing, really. I would not expect to get cabbage here until, say, October -- even though it is really of season then -- and I have to pay around Rs. 6-8 per kg in October for it. It doesn't come down in price until December and then it comes right down -- to 80 p. to Re. 1.00, during December and January. Then in February, March and April may be it will stabilise at around Rs. 1.00 to 1.50 and of course by May when the season began to end, it was really taxing a season and it was up to Rs. 8 to 10 per kg. and that I would regard it will be quite difficult because as I said it a seasonal thing."

Miscellaneous notes and figures on vegetable markets and marketing

Anand Vegetable Produce Market Committee--Anand Sub-yard Market

The Anand Vegetable Produce Market (a "sub-yard market", in official parlance) opposite Anand Railway Station, is a wholesale vegetable market where a minimum lot-size of 2.5 kg of any available vegetable is sold (to retailers and consumers). Every morning, at about 4 am, producers start to arrive at this market, bringing their produce in trucks, 3-wheelers, bullock and camel carts etc. Some small-scale producers bring only 20-40 kg of produce--often, they arrive by State Transport buses (the bus-stand is just outside the market).

As producers arrive, they are greeted by the Dalals (brokers): in this market, some 16 are "Authorised Dalals", four of whom are said to have the largest business (and to control the market, in effect). The market has two entry-ways, at both of which the produce is weighed and inspected. The Dalals then bargain (or bid) among themselves to determine which of them wants to purchase which lot of vegetables at what price etc. This bargaining between two Dalals takes only 2-3 minutes, during which neither talks with the other: they exchange information by each putting one hand under a handkerchief and then "talking" with their fingers, using a code that is known only to the Dalals, wholesalers etc. Immediately after 2-3 minutes of this "finger-talking", a whole lot of, say, cabbage, is priced--and, if the producer agrees, he then sells it to the Dalal at that price. In practice, the Dalals have a monopoly. The producer has to sell at the price offered by the Dalal, because otherwise none of the Dalals will purchase his produce; the farmer cannot afford to have his produce back to his village, nor can he sell it directly to a retailer because the retailers have too little capital to be able to buy large lot-sizes. So the producer is indirectly bound to sell his produce at the price which is offered, once he brings it to the market.

Producer-to-dalal transactions are completed (and the producers are paid) within 1-1.5 hours each morning. By then, wholesalers are waiting eagerly to bargain with the Dalals (both the Dalals and the wholesalers have shops/offices in the market). The dealing between the Dalals and wholesalers takes about half an hour to 1 hour, by which time the Dalals have sold off their morning's purchases.

The market received 400-600 bags of cabbage (average weight: 70 kg) daily during the 1979 off-season vs. 1000 bags during the peak season. Cabbage prices paid by Dalals and charged by retailers during 1979-80 are shown in Attachment 1. (These prices applied generally in the market, except for the cases of Dalals who were also doing business as wholesalers.) Not all the cabbage received at the market was locally produced--especially during the off-season, some came from villages in the hilly areas of Maharashtra, probably some 400 km from Anand. Most peak-season cabbage came from nearby villages, including Navli (although cabbages received from Navli were considered to be of poor quality--and this was attributed to Navlis co-operative selling into the Bombay market).

As already noted, weighment and inspection of produce is conducted at both of the market's two entry-ways. Suppose, at one door, Rs.20 is offered for 20 kg of cabbage--while, at the other door, Rs.25 is offered for 20 kg of the same quality cabbage. This could create problems and even cast doubt on the integrity of the Dalal's pricing system. To avoid this situation, active Dalals meet each other at both entry-ways at 5-minute intervals, to exchange information on prices which are being offered at both entry-ways (using "finger-language" under a handkerchief, so that producers cannot make it out).

It is believed that, after the Dalals have completed their purchases from the producers, then all the Dalals decide together the prices which they will charge that morning to the wholesalers. Thus, like the producers, the wholesalers are helpless: they have to accept the prices asked by the Dalals. These prices are, of course, passed on to the retailers, who mainly sell in Anand Town's large retail market (almost opposite the railway station), where retail prices are 25-40% higher than in the wholesale market, depending on the type and quality of vegetable. Many retailers are believed to cheat their customers, especially when selling fruit: customers find that, by the time they get home, 1 kg has shrunk to 700-800 gm.

Annexure 1: Anand wholesale market: month-wise cabbage price spreads during 1979-80

                         Dalal's rate: (i.e. what   Retailer's price/kg.     
                         he pays to producer/20                             

January                  Rs. 2 to 5                Re. 1                    

February                 Rs. 10 to 15              Rs. 1                    

March                    Rs. 10 to 20              Rs. 1.50                 

April                    Rs. 30 to 50              Rs. 3 to 4               

May                      Rs. 50                    Rs. 5                    

June                     Rs. 50                    Rs. 8 to 10              

July                     Rs. 50                    Rs. 8  to 10             

August                   Rs. 50 to 70              Rs. 5 to 7               

September                Rs. 40 to 45              Rs. 4 to 5               

October                  Rs. 30 to 35              Rs. 3 to 4               

November                 Rs. 10 to 15              RS. 2 to 3               

December                 Rs. 5 to 10               Re. 1                    

Source: Friendly Dalals of Anand Vegetable Market.

Annexure 2: Selected urban consumer expenditures per person for a period of 30 days by monthly per capita expenditure classes and distribution of classes

Monthly   Gujarat       Expenditures on:   Maharashtra Expenditures on:       
per       percentage    ------------------             ---------------------- 
capita    distribution  -----------        percentage  --------------Vegetabl 
expenditu of estimated  Vegetables         distributio es           All       
re class  number of        All             n of        foods                  
in        households                       estimated                          
Rupees                            foods    number of                          

0-13      0.13          --         2.50     0.64        0.28        5.13        

13-15     --            --         --       0.35        0.57        11.41       

15-18     0.49          0.59       13.07    0.68        0.64        13.19       

18-21     0.36          1.37       16.07    1.07        1.02        15.33       

21-24     0.56          1.66       18.67    1.73        1.03        18.02       

24-28     2.00          1.75       21.13    3.69        1.19        19.97       

28-34     7.29          2.12       25.88    5.67        1.37        23.65       

34-43     15.53         2.38       30.82    10.51       1.80        28.92       

43-55     21.48         2.95       38.05    13.36       2.55        34.88       

55-75     23.13         3.61       47.68    17.22       3.30        43.31       

75-100    15.10         4.38       58.53    13.96       4.37        54.16       

100-150   8.41          5.34       73.73    17.33       5.25        71.22       

150-200   2.64          6.28       90.14    7.05        6.61        93.54       

200 and   2.08          7.41       128.20   6.74        8.34        121.50      

All       100.00        3.19       41.96    100.00      3.30        45.71       

Source: Sarvekshana, Vol. II, No. 3, January, 1979.