Tidy up procurement

The state government is to procure 36 lakh metric tonnes (MT) of rice in 2017-18 kharif marketing season (KMS) — a drop of 80,000 MT from last year. That there is a markdown in the volume of paddy procurement this year even as most districts in the state have received better rainfall compared with last year is tad intriguing.

There have been few changes in other conditions or prerequisites for farmers to be able to sell their produce at mandis, to the government or to government-approved procuring agencies and avail minimum support price (MSP). There are too many anomalies in our present procurement system.

The documentation process made binding on farmers has defeated the overarching objective of maximum spread of MSP programme in the state. The MSP programme has not been uniformly implemented across our districts even though it is more than a decade now since paddy procurement was decentralised in Orissa.

Many farmers in coastal and south Orissa are still facing hiccups while selling their produce at mandis, while there are farmers in western Orissa who at times get more than the MSP for paddy.

The government should take efforts to iron out anomalies in the current procurement system and make it uniform across regions. The majority of farmers in our state are sharecroppers who are not allowed to sell their produce at mandis as they do not have the papers required to get themselves registered online.

As many farmers cannot preserve stocks for longer durations in their houses owing to paucity of space, they are forced to dispose of the stocks to traders and middlemen at rates much lower than MSP. Delayed opening of mandis or short durations of procurement deprive many farmers of benefits. The authorities must look into this aspect.

Sharp rise in cost of inputs has made farming a highly unremunerative profession, especially in states such as Orissa where productivity from land is among the lowest in the country. According to a report by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, which determines the MSP of different agriculture commodities in the country, paddy is a major agricultural commodity in 13 states in India.

This includes Orissa. Among these states, Punjab has the highest productivity of 39.7 quintals per hectare while the national average is pegged at 24.3 quintals per hectare. The land productivity in Orissa stood at 18.8 quintals per hectare — 25 per cent less than the national average.

This is where the government must bring in focus. The share of irrigated land in the state’s overall farmland has not exceeded 30 per cent yet. Post-harvest facilities such as markets, warehouses and efficient transportation to carry farm stocks are not available here. People in many areas still depend on traditional methods of farming.

People here do not grow paddy as a matter of choice but out of compulsion. As there is no alternative, farmers grow paddy here. The lack of awareness and wherewithal to grow other commodities has prevented farmers from switching crops.

Instead of looking at volume or setting a target for procurement, the focus should be on increasing productivity of land and on raising farmers’ incomes. Efforts should also be made to tidy up the process of procurement by drastically reducing paperwork.

One prerequisite for participating in paddy procurement is that farmers should have Aadhaar cards. At present, not all farmers have Aadhaar cards. Making it compulsory will further reduce the number of farmers taking part in the procurement. As it is, one third of the total production of paddy in Orissa (150 lakh MT) remains unsold as sharecroppers who produce it have no access to the official procurement programme of the state.

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