Kolkata: Around 12 lakh paddy farmers, of an estimated 72 lakh in Bengal, have opted for a government scheme to procure kharif paddy for the public distribution system.
The government plans to enrol another 23 lakh farmers into the scheme.
This would not only help meet its procurement target for supply of free rice to nearly 19 crore people till June 2021, but also pre-empt distress sale by farmers and stabilise the price of rice in the market.
A bumper kharif harvest, coupled with low demand for Swarno Masuri, Lata, IR64, Niranjan and others — coarser varieties of the grain — have been threatening to pull down paddy prices below the government-announced minimum support price (MSP). The scare prompted the state government to widen the rice procurement base among farmers. Agriculturists believe this will also help farmers improve rabi farming, stabilising the price of finer varieties of rice sold in urban markets.
The government plans to impose a ceiling on the amount of paddy procured from each farmer, so that more of them can be brought under the ambit of the project. The maximum procurement was 90 quintals at an MSP of Rs 1,868 per quintal last year; the maximum procurement at MSP this year will be 45 quintals.
The fear of declining prices has gripped farmers across the country following the Centre’s new farm laws that are non-committal on MSP.
Paddy prices in the market are way below the MSP, hovering around Rs 1,200-Rs 1,300 a quintal. The kharif paddy scenario is in sharp contrast with potato prices that continue to rise, defying the logic that producers get better prices after commodities are removed from the Essential Commodities Act.
For Bengal, the problem is more acute than other states’, as it is the country’s rice bowl, with an estimated production of 25 crore quintals of paddy this year against last year’s 24.3 crore quintals.
“This has necessitated us reaching out to a maximum number of farmers. In Bengal, 90% farmers are marginal ones,” said Bengal’s food and civil supplies minister, Jyotipriya Mallick. The minister pointed out that 800 to 900 farmers were enrolling with the procurement process daily. The paddy procurement will begin later this month.
Altogether, 21 lakh farmers benefited during the last kharif season. “We hope to expand the procurement net and include 35 lakh farmers worst hit by the pandemic,” said Pradeep Mazumdar, agri-adviser to the Bengal government. Mazumdar complained that the Food Corporation of India procured only 7.1 lakh quintals against the 60-lakh quintal target for running the central scheme.
With elections in 2021, the state government has set a target of procuring 520 lakh quintals of paddy. “We may revise the target if the enrolment is very high, ” the food minister said. The government is also setting up a special surveillance system to ensure that the enrolled farmer has actually sold his harvest to the government.