Patna: Somesh Rai, a marginal farmer from a village under Mahua block in Vaishali district of Bihar is unhappy with the government’s much-hyped claim that farmers will benefit from wheat procurement. Rai was forced to sell his wheat at throwaway prices to local traders early this month as local Primary Agriculture Cooperative Societies (PACS) failed to procure from him despite repeated attempts.
Rai said nothing has changed year after year as farmers’ produce hardly get the right price. “Hardly seven days left for the official deadline of procurement of wheat by the government agency like PACS, procurement is slow and farmers lost hope to get MSP.”
Another small land holding farmer Jitan Thakur, who grew wheat on land taken on lease, said procurement problem has been going on for the past several years. Government agencies have failed to procure wheat from farmers across categories like rich, marginal and small-scale. “The government’s announcement sounds good on paper. Contrary to it, farmers are forced to sell wheat to traders at much lower rates,” said Thakur, a resident of a village under Paliganj block in Patna district.
Both Rai and Thakur’s experiences paint the real picture on the ground regarding the poor wheat procurement in Bihar. Till June 8 in the current financial year, as per the official data of the state cooperative department, the government has procured 260248.720 metric tonnes of wheat, amounting to less than 40% of its target of 7 lakh metric tonne. So far, wheat was procured from 52,629 farmers only. There are more than 41 lakh farmers in the state.
The Nitish Kumar government has aimed at procuring 7 lakh metric tonnes of wheat by May 31. In view of the ongoing lockdown, the government has extended the deadline for wheat procurement till June 15.
The issue in wheat procurement is widely seen as a result of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's decision 15 years ago. Soon after becoming chief minister in alliance with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2006, he scrapped Bihar’s Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act. It was declared that this would lead to increased private investment in agricultural infrastructure, better prices for farmers and an end to middlemen.
But in reality, in these years, farmers’ have been invariably forced to sell their produce at prices much below government declared Minimum Support Prices (MSP) and the procurement by government agency has been very low.
The government agencies PACS and Vyapar Mandals have been procuring wheat from all panchayats in 38 districts at least on paper since April this year.
“A small number of farmers benefited from the government procurement of wheat. This is after last month's review of wheat procurement by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his directive to officials to ensure that maximum number of farmers get benefit of MSP,” Ishteyaque Ahmad, an agriculture activist, told Newsclick.
He blamed the government’s apathy in ensuring wheat procurement on time and blamed nexus of the government officials, middlemen and traders for slow procurement.
The agriculture department secretary N Sarawana Kumar said this year’s wheat production was estimated to be nearly 65 lakh MT, which is more than last year.
Further, agriculture experts from the Bihar Agriculture University, Sabour, said that wheat harvesting was bumper this year. Farmers were upbeat as they expected good returns by selling at MSP. But reports reaching from villages across the state suggest that procurement of wheat was delayed and slow.
According to officials of the agriculture department, the state government had announced a rate of Rs 1,975 per quintal as the MSP for wheat this rabi season. But farmers have been forced to sell it at the cost of Rs 1600 to 1700 per quintal.
Upset over failure of PACS to procure wheat, Suresh Sharma, another marginal farmer of Kurhani block in Muzaffarpur, said he has produced nearly 70 quintal wheat. “I have invested more than Rs 40,000 on seeds, fertilisers, tractor, thrasher and labourers and worked day and night for months. If I don’t get MSP, as it look now, the government’s claim of double income for farmers is mere a joke for us,” Sharma said.
Sharma said the government's wheat procurement policy is not benefiting farmers. “We were left high and dry in every rabi season despite good production. What is the use of PACS if farmers have to run for selling its produce and return disappointed.”
Last year, Bihar procured less than 1% of wheat produced by the farmers. It means a small fraction of farmers get MSP for their produce. As per official figures, only 5000 tonnes of wheat was procured in Bihar in the Rabi marketing season of 2020-21, against the revised target of 7 lakh metric tonnes. In 2019-20, state agencies procured 2815 tonnes of wheat.
Official data of the government reveals that Bihar accounts for 5.7% of the total wheat production in the country. This year farmers have cultivated wheat in over 233,000 hectares of farmland.
According to government data, nearly two-third of Bihar’s total population of 12 crores is dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Most of them are small and marginal farmers. Moreover, nearly two-third of all agricultural activities in the state are dependent on rainfall.
Agriculture is the backbone of Bihar’s economy, employing 81% of the workforce and generating nearly 42% of the state’s gross domestic product, according to the state government’s figures.