Why Madhya Pradesh farmers are crying over bumper onion produce
Madhya Pradesh’s farmers have always grown onions, but when prices skyrocketed in 2010-11, the land under onion cultivation doubled over the next five years, resulting in the current problem of plenty.india Updated: Jun 14, 2017 08:07 IST
The Madhya Pradesh government is buying onions at Rs 8 per kilo to bail out farmers hit by plunging crop prices, but the mood among cultivators in a serpentine queue in front of a government procurement centre is far from buoyant.
“I’ve been in line for four days,” said an exasperated Jitendra Anjana on Tuesday, standing beside his tractor-trolley loaded with onions. The authorities, Anjana said, were only processing 250 trollies a day. “There are already a 1,000 of us here with more arriving each day.”
Ranchhod Singh Goyel, another farmer, has more pressing worries. “The farmer is caught between two boats: should we plant the next crop or be in line to get paid for the current crop”.
Though initially indifferent to the plight of farmers facing a glut and declining prices, state authorities have opened at least one procurement centre in each onion-growing district in the wake of last week’s farmers’ stir in Mandsaur that resulted in six deaths, including five in police firing. The procurement centres will be open till July 9.
Onion growers can now sell their produce at a higher price compared to Rs 1 they were getting earlier per kilogram. The government plans to sell the onions for Rs 2 a kg. But farmers are worried. “Prices will crash the moment the government stops,” said a trader. “And the Rs 2 onions will destroy the small vegetable vendors.”
The state’s marginal farmers are suffering too. The mandi is only procuring onions from tractor-trollies as their weighing-bridges cannot handle other vehicles. “I don’t own a tractor,” said onion farmer Bharat Sharma. “It costs Rs 1,500 a day to rent one – Rs 6,000 just to stand in line for four days to sell the onions.” Instead, Sharma is selling his onions to a private trader at Rs 6 per kg, 30% lower than the government price.
“Poor farmers are going to private sellers because they can get cash right away,” said Om Patidar, an onion farmer and trader. “The government is buying, but no one knows when the money will appear in farmer accounts.” “We may have to organise a second agitation to get our money,” farmer Mohan Sharma agreed.
Madhya Pradesh’s farmers have always grown onions, but when prices skyrocketed in 2010-11, the land under onion cultivation doubled over the next five years, resulting in the current problem of plenty. When prices crashed for three consecutive years, the Madhya Pradesh government offered an MSP for onions for the first time in 2016 and acquired about one million quintals. “But the government did not know how to store onions,” said an onion trader in Ujjain’s vegetable market. “The entire consignment rotted away in damp warehouses.”
Many feel the onion crisis is emblematic of the dysfunction at the heart of Indian agriculture. “State governments have no clue about price movements of agro-commodities, so they do not plan in advance,” said G Chandrashekhar, a Mumbai-based commodity analyst.
Though driven to distress, farmers in Madhya Pradesh have not given up on onions yet. “Next year is an election year, so the government will have to buy,” said a farmer with a smile, “It makes sense to plant even more onions.”