With the state and the Central governments failing to check the fall in basmati prices — rates have dipped over 50% from Rs 4,000 a quintal in 2013 to Rs 2,000 this season — the crop, once touted as a route to breaking the water-guzzling cycle of wheat and paddy, has left the producers knee-deep in losses that mount up to Rs 7,000 an acre.
Consider the case of Roop Singh, a farmer from Deon village, Bathinda.
“I hired 35 acres at between Rs 40,000 and Rs 47,000 per acre. On 18 acres, I sowed basmati. The average yield was 16 quintal per acre. I have sold the produce at rates ranging between Rs 2,100 and Rs 2,240 per quintal, meaning earnings of just around Rs 33,000 an acre against the rent of Rs 40,000 — a loss of Rs 7,000 an acre. This is without the cost of my labour and other inputs like electricity, water etc,” he says, adding that he had transported his produce from Bathinda to Kotkapura, 55-km away, expecting better rates. This is not an isolated case.
The same story of unsustainable losses, especially in basmati, is repeated by farmers across the region.
“I sowed basmati on 10 acres and stored it for over two months, expecting a better price. Finally, I sold it for Rs 2,230 a quintal on Tuesday and earned Rs 35,000 per acre. This does not even cover the land rent. Paddy, on the other hand, fetched Rs 40,000 per acre,” says Naib Singh, a farmer from Lande village, Moga, who also transported his produce to the Kotkapura grain market.
Trade speaks it mind
“Neither the state, nor the Centre has intervened to stop the free fall in basmati prices even as the production has fallen by more than 38%. This season, only 24 lakh tonne has arrived in grain markets against 32 lakh tonne last season. The governments have left both farmers as well as basmati millers to fend for themselves,” claimed Ashish Kathuria, general secretary, Punjab Basmati Manufactures Association.
“The government wants diversification, but has failed to support basmati, the only hope for this to happen,” he claimed.
‘Basmati or fine paddy variety’
Bhartiya Kisan Union, (Sidhupore-Ekta) president Jagjeet Singh Dallewal, said, “Basmati growers have been cheated. The Centre has a pro-trader approach and is allowing exploitation of farmers. For a short while, basmati prices were allowed to increase to Rs 3,000 per quintal. When farmers brought the produce to market, prices dipped. The government is also exploiting farmers. For instance, Basmati 1509 is being bought by it at just Rs 1,450 per quintal on the pretext that it is a superfine variety of paddy. If it is a paddy variety, why were the farmers allowed to sow it as basmati?”
“Private millers are procuring basmati. The prices have increased from around Rs 1,500 a quintal to around Rs 2,500 a quintal now. The fluctuation is because of many reasons — including international market, demand and supply and area under the crop,” said Faridkot mandi officer Kulbir Singh Matta.