n July this year, the Centre had raised the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy by Rs 200 — way below the state government’s demand of Rs 2,900 per quintal. The hike, though very small, was expected to bring in a semblance of relief to the lot of farmers who claimed the MSP could not cover their input costs. Inasmuch as Orissa has taken to decentralised procurement of paddy, the onus of ensuring maximum number of farmers sell their produce at MSP singularly rests on the shoulders of the state government. For, the state government through the Odisha State Civil Supplies Corporation (OSCSC) procures over 90 per cent of the total paddy that comes to mandis. The kharif procurement season begins from October while the delivery of rice by millers continues till September end. Odisha does not have a uniform pattern for harvesting. In districts such as Bargarh, Kalahandi, Sonepur, part of Sambalpur, Balasore and Ganjam farmers cultivate two crops. These districts have also an early harvesting season resulting in early arrival of paddy at the market yards. The government should therefore ensure that procurement centres in these districts are up and running latest by October end. However, mandis in most of these districts are yet to open. There are still uncertainties on when procurement will start as millers are yet to sign agreements with the district administrations. The delay in opening of mandis has coerced farmers to sell their produce to traders, invariably at prices way below the MSP. Reports come up on traders from Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh doing brisk business in some districts.
This is a cyclical problem in the state. Every year, farmers face such hurdles. Delayed opening of mandis, prolonged wait at mandis to dispose stocks, under-realisation of prices, delayed payments, arbitrary cutting in quantities by rice millers are among the hazards that farmers invariably face. The administration is aware of these issues. Still it lets it persist. Procurement is a critical component in the chain of activities associated with farming. Unless it is made totally seamless and easy to access, farmers can never get remunerative prices. There is no justification why the government cannot open mandis from as early as early November. The philosophy behind opting for decentralised procurement by the state government was to ensure that maximum number of farmers would receive the benefits of MSP. Farmers borrow hugely from informal sources right from sowing to harvesting of paddy. Early disposal of produce helps them promptly repay loans. Poor farmers cannot afford to hold on to their stocks for long as most do not own stockyards for paddy. There is also the issue of moisture. For them, quick disposal of paddy is no less important than prices. Delay in procurement pushes them to sell paddy to traders. Reports have come that traders from Andhra Pradesh are camping in Agarpada, Bant, Aradi and Barpada areas in Bhadrak and buy paddy. In some districts, these traders have engaged local middlemen to motivate farmers to sell their stock to traders. The lack of coordination between the civil supplies department, which ties up with rice millers and the administration, dates of paddy procurement are being extended from time to time, pushing famers into a tighter bear hug of traders. Demanding higher MSP from the Centre is okay, but that alone will not ease the myriad woes of farmers, timely delivery of services by the state government is equally important.