Farmers are always the silent sufferers no matter which state they come from. In the absence of strong, structured and proactive organisations to protect their interests, their agonies tend to pile up. They invariably find themselves at the receiving end, be it of the elements or the lax administration, or sometimes even of both. The latter was on full display during the current kharif marketing season in Orissa. A sub-normal monsoon, pest attacks on ripe paddy and unseasonal rains troubled them no end. Hardly had we heard the end of their sufferings when news comes in that the authorities refuse to accept their paddy at mandis, saying they are not of acceptable standards for procurement. The procuring agencies, all government-owned or government-appointed, refuse to accept the produce, saying the stocks do not conform to fair average quality (FAQ) standards set by the Centre.
We all knew that untimely rain had wrought extensive damage to paddy crops in November when farmers were about to harvest their crops. Low pressure-induced rain lashed many parts of the state over days affecting thousands of hectares of standing crop. Farmers were not able to bring ripe crop home and were forced to leave them on fields. Paddy lay submerged in waterlogged fields for days. Some farmers had even tried to harvest immature crop, fearing rain. Prolonged submergence in water inevitably led to damage to and/or discolouring of grain. Massive pest attack in late September and October had already affected the crop. According to an estimate, a massive 1.70 lakh hectares of cropland in nine districts of the state were damaged by pest attacks. Despite their best efforts to save crops, farmers were not able to maintain the FAQ standards.
The state government has written to the Centre to ease FAQ parameters so that farmers do not face difficulties at mandis. Rejection of non-FAQ paddy at mandis is only the latest to an increasing number of woes that the farmers face in the state today. Delayed opening of procurement centres forcing farmers to sell paddy to traders at prices much below the MSP, delayed payments and arbitrary cuts in the valuation of stocks had already been troubling the farmers here. Farmers are always at the mercy of procurement agents and rice millers who play many tricks on gullible farmers to force them to sell paddy at low prices. The administration, represented by supply department officials and regulated market committee staff, is hand in glove with rogue rice millers. The FAQ issue has come in handy for these rogue millers to harass farmers at mandis. In the absence of changed guidelines on FAQ norms, farmers are forced to sell their stocks at rates below MSP to traders. A whole lot of confusion exists on this issue today. Although the food supply and consumer welfare department has written to the Centre to ease FAQ norms, the move has come a bit too late. The Centre has sent a fact-finding team to Orissa to assess the extent and reasons for non-FAQ paddy. However, the procedure adopted by the Centre is rather dilatory. The state government on its part should have taken a preventive move and sent a letter to the Centre as soon as the rain and the pest attacks started here. It failed to do so. The Centre by delaying the easing of FAQ norms for Orissa has further hit farmers’ interests. Paddy procurement is a limited-time exercise. Mandis open for a short time. If the stocks are not sold within this limited window, they find its way to the hands of traders. The government must bring in an emergency measure to clear this FAQ confusion and ensure seamless procurement of paddy in the state.