iconimg Sunday, August 30, 2015

Navrajdeep Singh, Hindustan Times
Patiala, September 29, 2013
When paddy procurement starts from October 1, the farmers who have sown basmati varieties in the kharif season will find no minimum support price (MSP) for their crop. The failure of the union government to declare any MSP for basmati varieties will allow private traders to exploit the farmers with monopolistic prices that will vary across grain markets. The trend is that the government agencies don't procure basmati varieties, and local traders and private agencies are the only buyers.

The state government also failed to ensure MSP, in spite of encouraging farmers to go with the basmati varieties under the crop-diversification plan. For reducing the area under water-guzzling traditional paddy, more than 6-lakh hectares is under different varieties of basmati, compared with 4.5-lakh hectares last year.

In the agriculture policy draft, Punjab State Farmers' Commission (PSFC) chairman GS Kalkat had proposed to the government to motivate farmers to grow basmati varieties, maize, vegetables, cereals and pulses, but at the same time, also offer them adequate subsidy on seed, better marketing facilities, and good MSP to implement the diversification plan.

Compared with the other varieties of paddy, basmati are sown in July generally and consume less water, which reduces the farmers' input cost. Regular varieties take 160 to 170 days to mature and require more water.

Basmati's previous average price has been `2,800 per quintal (depending upon variety) against `1,310 for non-basmati varieties. This season, the yield from PR 115 basmati variety has started reaching at many grain markets in the district but basmati's main variety, PUSA 1121, sown over 5-lakh hectares, will reach the markets only in the third week of October.

'Good for only couple of seasons'

“Farmers can grow basmati for two or three seasons, after which they'll be reluctant, if they don't get help in marketing and prices,” said Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan. “Who will be responsible in case farmers failed to get adequate price for the crop?” he added.

For almost the same input cost, the per-hectare yield was far less in case of basmati, said Kokri Kalan. “If the government can't ensure MSP, it should also not drive farmers to exploitation at the hands of private traders, who fix rates arbitrarily,” he further said. In some respite to farmers, the Punjab government has decided to waive rural development fund and market fee of 4% on the purchase of basmati by local millers.

Maize caught in same maze
 
In spite of the state government's promoting maize as Punjab's future crop, the cabinet committee on economic affairs (CCEA) has failed to fix its MSP. Promoted in 56 blocks of 10 districts this year, maize was cultivated over 1.70-lakh hectares.

Earlier, its average price of `1,450 per quintal was almost equal to the rate for A-grade paddy. Now farmers demand `2,000 per quintal. Consortium of Indian Farmers' Association president Satnam Singh Bheru said the farmers' trade unions had requested the union government to declare the MSPs for crops in the diversification schedule.