Wheat procurement soars despite Covid-19, but challenges remain for farmers

Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have contributed the most to the kitty

Covid 19Image Courtesy:economictimes

The Press Information Bureau of India (PIB) has issued a statement saying that the wheat procurement by government agencies surpassed last year figures despite a delay due to Covid-19, unseasonal rain and tight labour supply.

The Covid-19 pandemic came as a big hit to farmers who suffered issues with delayed procurement of their crops, leading them to settle for lower prices than they would normally get had the situation been normal. However, the Ministry of Public Affairs, Food and Public Distribution issued a statement that this year’s procurement of wheat touched 341.56 Lakh Metric Tonnes surpassing last year’s supply by 25,000 tonnes which stood at 341.31 Lakh Metric Tonnes.

While now, the Centre rests easy on having surpassed last year’s procurement, the process has been fraught with challenges for both, the agencies and the farmers. Here is a look at some.

Challenges in procurement agencies and farmers

For procurement agencies

The statement by the Food and Public Distribution Ministry said that the national lockdown delayed the procurement of wheat which generally takes week in the first week of April after the harvesting is done in the end of March. Due to this, the procurement only began on April 15, except for Haryana, where procurement began on April 20.

Another challenge was getting farmers to maintain social distancing at the procurement centers to ensure that their health wasn’t affected. For this, the number of procurement centers of increased to make sure that footfalls at centers were distributed and there was no large gathering at just one centre. The Food Ministry said that new centers were made available at the gram panchayat level and the numbers were increased sharply in the major procuring states like Punjab where it went up from 1836 to 3681, 599 to 1800 in Haryana and from 3545 to 4494 in Madhya Pradesh. To avoid overcrowding at procurement centers, farmers were also given specific dates and time slots to bring their produce and only those people involved directly with the process were allowed to be at daily auctions.

The issue of not enough jute bags to carry grains was also once that procurement agencies faced due to jute mills being closed. This they handled by using more plastic bags and bags that had been used before, subject to strict quality conditions.

Unseasonal rains also played a dampener for procurement. The rains in North India hit the standing and harvested wheat crop, thus affecting the quality of grains. KAP Sinha, Punjab’s Principal Secretary (food and civil supplies) had told Hindustan Times, “Moisture more than permissible limits of 12% leads to delay in procurement as the crop has to be dried first. It damages the grain, leading to its discolouration.” However, after demands from farmers and the Opposition demanded that the moisture content specifications be altered from 12 to 18 percent, their ask was considered by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and the Government of India (GOI) after conducting a detailed and specific analysis to make sure that the farmers were not distressed and the grains met minimum quality requirement of the consumers.

With a fear of the infection in the masses and labour being in short supply, the Food Ministry ensured that it conducted confidence building measures at the local level by the state administration and also provided workers with adequate safety equipment like masks, gloves, sanitizers, etc.

For farmers

The untimely rains and shortage of labour created a vicious loss cycle for farmers. Grains were rejected due to discolouration before the procurement norms were relaxed and post that, they had to settle for lower prices for their harvest.

Keeping social distancing in mind, only 100 farmers were allowed to bring their farm produce to the state mandis. The Punjab and Haryana guidelines had been issued to all markets that only 50 farmers each would be allowed in a mandi from 8 am to 2 pm and 2:30 pm to 6 pm daily, Hindustan Times had reported in April. In the Rabi season, farmers were only allowed to sell 40 quintal of produce daily, enhancing their woes of storage, thus making them take extra trips and spend more on loading and unloading of materials.

With traders buying from farmers directly, the minimum support prices (MSP) have been hit. Farmers allege they received much lesser than the MSP of Rs. 1,925 per quintal fixed by the government. It was reported by agencies like Cogencis that farmers in Jaipur had to sell wheat at Rs. 1,830 – Rs. 1,880 per quintal.

Speaking of mismanagement by mandis as being another blow to farmer incomes, a farmer from Barha, Jabalpur, explained to The Print as to how under a new system called ‘sauda patrak’, traders decided at what rate they wanted to procure the produce and state governments officials couldn’t intervene in the matter. While the scheme was brought about to reduce the intervention of middlemen, it turned into an exploitation technique.

While challenges still prevail, the Food Ministry stated that with the well-coordinated efforts by the government of India, FCI, state governments and their agencies, the procurement of wheat was done smoothly and farmers too were helped in the bargain.

The press release by PIB may be read below.




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