Ready to Serve (RTS) including Ready to Eat (RTE) food and Phone Applications based delivery systems are growing at a rapid pace. This was happening with a growing upper middle-income urban household and largely driven by families where both spouses are working. Many richer people also find this a means for having greater variety in their food choices. The current Covid-19 pandemic, which forced eating places to close down has exponentially increased the demand for RTS and RTE food items and delivery systems.
The other crucial aspect of this trend in loss of livelihoods of the food vendors and hawkers. Hawkers have been the backbone of the informal workers in cities. As the lockdown and concerns over the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the informal migrant workers have also moved out of the city and severe restrictions have been placed on their activities. These impacts have still not been understood.
“There are four crore hawkers across the country and at least one crore families run tiny and small industrial units that feed these vendors. They don’t know how to make both ends meet as their businesses have come to a complete halt,” National Hawker Federation general secretary, Shaktiman Ghosh wondered at the beginning of the lockdown. A total of 1,188 unions and 11 central trade unions in 28 states are affiliated to the National Hawker Federation demanded that the government must recognize street vending as an essential service.
The indomitable spirit of Shaktiman Ghosh and the Hawker Sangram Parishad the forerunner of the Federation, decided to get into action when they realised that they were the best equipped to deal with the crisis when others were confused with the situation. They swung into action and started providing food and rations, running community kitchens that has saved numerous lives and has given stranded workers, students, and others the much need of support. Even today the action continues and is almost nearing the 100th day of relentless service.
The National Hawkers Federation has also been arguing for low carbon and affordability of the street vendors and the need to support their efforts. Although the government has announced SVANidhi, a Rs 10,000 loan to street vendors, the process is cumbersome. Not even a single disbursal has taken place and it is expected that this will begin from the first of July. The Hawkers are still apprehensive.
However, the crisis has accelerated the collaboration between Hawkers Federation and Qlikchain. Qlikchain is a unique enterprise with a mission is to create sustainable value chains. Qlikchain works on capacity building, audited provenance, secure marketplaces structured in a transparent, inclusive, and decentralized network of stakeholders and have found a pathbreaking partnership. This has culminated in the formation of hawkers led distributed food delivery systems, where the last mile is reached by bicycles. This collaboration of the National Hawkers Federation is also linking farm producers to the consumer. Most recently their effort has enabled Organic Vegetable and Rice sourced from producers in East Midnapore to reach the consumers in Kolkata in organic packaging in association with Tokri. AyonHazra of Qlikchain insists on a future based short chains between Farmers, Hawkers and Users aided by high technology.
Such a significant initiative must be recognised in the context of the huge carbon footprint in the form of a variety of packaging materials and delivery from distant places by the large VC funded app based MNCs. The global food packaging market volume is expected to reach a colossal USD 456.6 billion by 2027, expanding at a CAGR of 5.2% over the forecast period, according to a new report published in March 2020. Longer shelf-life and ease of storage, which are the key factors promoting its use during the COVID-19 outbreak will result in much higher demand for food packaging owing to increasing demand for the product across processed and packaged foods segment. Mostly as delivery is made through motorcycles. One major food delivery company reported 1.40 Million orders for the month of January 2020 in major metropolitan cities of India and generated over 22000 Tonnes of plastic wastes.
So, if you are a Kolkatan or visiting the historic city do try Hawkers Bazar, they are creating history at a time of crisis while showing their resolve to beat the distress.