Patna: Bhola Singh and Suresh Tiwari, both paddy growing farmers of Rohtas district of Bihar, have been worried over slow paddy procurement by government agencies in the last 50 days. They were forced to sell half of the paddy to traders in the open market for between Rs 1,400-1,450/quintal recently, much below the minimum support price (MSP) for paddy. Singh and Tiwari, two among thousands of farmers in Rohtas, known as the rice bowl of Bihar, are not getting MSP for paddy due to the apathy of the government to procure from them.
This reality was reflected in the latest official data from the Cooperative Department about daily paddy procurement in Rohtas and other adjacent districts of Kaimur, Bhojpur and Buxar, which are considered the rice belt of the state.
The state government agencies have procured 1,57,521.915 metric tonnes (MT) of paddy in Rohtas from farmers till January 5. It is nearly 26.5% of the target fixed for procurement. The government has set a target to procure 5.89 lakh tonnes of paddy on MSP in Rohtas.
"So far, the government agencies are procuring paddy slowly, and farmers have been left with no other option but to sell the paddy to traders in the open market," said Singh, a resident of Rampur village under Chenari block.
As per the Cooperative Department officials, 52,977 farmers in 19 blocks of Rohtas had been registered for paddy procurement. But to date, government agencies have procured paddy from only 14,848 farmers at MSP. This is contrary to repeated claims by the state government about procuring more paddy to minimise distress sales by the small, marginal and big farmers.
"We are getting a loss of between Rs 450-480/quintal by selling paddy in the open market. What can we do? There is no move to speed up paddy procurement by government agencies," said Tiwari, a resident of a village under Bikramganj block.
Another farmer Zafir Ahmad of Dehri block said that after harvesting one and a half months ago, paddy farmers have been waiting for procurement by government agencies. Last week's untimely rains created trouble as harvested paddy crops got wet, which the farmers had been drying in the sun.
"With the persistent cold wave and local met office's forecast about more rains next week, farmers have to worry as harvested paddy crop are stocked in the open, either near the house or in nearby fields."
Rohtas district cooperative officer Samresh Kumar said paddy procurement will speed up now. All the concerned officials were directed to ensure it.
Thousands of farmers in Kaimur are also facing similar problems like Singh, Tiwari and Ahmad related to slow paddy procurement by government agencies.
As per the official data of the Cooperative Department updated on Wednesday (January 5), government agencies have procured 85,957.13 metric tonnes so far. Paddy from 7,143 farmers has been procured at MSP in Kaimur. In Bhojpur, 64,211.430 metric tonnes of paddy has been procured from 7,089 farmers. In Buxar, 52,259.206 metric tonnes of paddy from 5,924 farmers was procured.
According to official data from the Cooperative Department, state government agencies have procured 14,38,933.478 metric tonnes of paddy from 1,88,893 farmers in the state till January 5. It is more than 30% of the target of 45 lakh tonnes so far. More than 8 lakh farmers had been registered for paddy procurement in the state. With barely 40 days left for paddy procurement officially, farmers failed to understand whether they should wait for procurement on MSP.
Since 2020, the state has reduced the duration of the procurement period. While procurement used to happen till March 31 earlier, it was brought down to mid-February.
"Usually, the paddy procurement lasts till March, but this year the government has fixed procurement till February 15. This is bound to affect us," said Deepak Yadav, a farmer who hails from Piro block in Bhojpur.
Bihar Agriculture Minister Amrendra Pratap Singh said the government is fully committed to ensuring the farmers get the MSP.
"We are hopeful of achieving paddy procurement in the state."
Reports reaching here suggest farmers have been complaining and raising the alleged irregularities in payment and the general reluctance of the government agencies to procure paddy.
However, farmers questioned the slow paddy procurement and said that hardly 30% of the paddy was procured by the government from farmers so far. Farmers have been left with no other option but to sell the paddy to traders without MSP.
"It is happening even though the government has fixed the MSP of paddy at Rs 1,940," Balmiki Sharma, another farmer, said.
In Bihar, Primary Agriculture Cooperative Societies (PACS) and Vyapar Mandals have been engaged to procure paddy directly from farmers in each panchayat. It has been done to ensure that farmers get fair and remunerative prices for their crops.
The process for paddy procurement, which begins on November 15 in the state, was delayed due to the state Assembly polls. It formally started in the first week of December.
An official of the state cooperative department had admitted that paddy procurement was slow.
According to government data, nearly two-thirds of Bihar's total population of 12 crores is dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Most of them are small and marginal farmers. Moreover, almost two-thirds of all agricultural activities in the state are dependent on rainfall.
According to the government's figures, agriculture is the backbone of Bihar's economy, employing 81% of the workforce and generating nearly 42% of the state's gross domestic product.