Dharampal Sheel is in a fix over his expenses and future income after he found that his yield of wheat over his four-acre farm has substantially reduced to 54 quintals this season compared to 72 quintals the previous year. The reduced yield has been mainly attributed to extreme heatwaves across north and central India. The heatwave gripped the regions when the crop was in the grain filling stage in March.
Sheel, a farmer in Punjab's Patiala, told NewsClick that the worst sufferers of the crop loss remain small and marginal farmers who are at a loss on ways to counter the impact of crop loss. He said, "The farmers in Malwa region of Punjab have suffered most on account of crop loss. Punjab's farmers have been contributing to the central pool because they received a steady Minimum Support Price (MSP). This year, too, when the Russia-Ukraine war escalated the production crisis, mainly the big farmers earned profits because they had the capacity to stock the grains. I have personally lost Rs 50,000 due to crop loss. Our organisations are negotiating with the Punjab government to get some bonus to recover the losses."
Extreme heatwaves have caused crop losses in wheat producing states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The officials at the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare expected that the country would achieve record wheat production at 111.32 million tonnes this season compared to 103.88 million tonnes. However, the estimates were revised post heatwave to 105 million tonnes.
Apart from the heatwave, farmers believe that government apathy worsened their situation. Kailash Chand Verma, a farmer in Madhya Pradesh's Sehore district, said that the average production loss remained between 22% to 25%, and the power crisis made it worse for them. Sehore remains the hub of top quality wheat production.
Talking to NewsClick over the phone, Verma said that the power supply during crop watering was not reliable. "The average supply of electricity was for eight hours, that too in two spells of four hours each. If I have one tubewell and three dependent families, they would allocate days to water the crop. If anybody misses it due to non-supply, the entire cycle gets disturbed and one suffers losses," he said.
Farmers' organisations in the country are demanding a bonus of Rs 500 per quintal of wheat to recover the losses. Samyukta Kisan Morcha's Punjab unit has waged a struggle in Chandigarh on the lines of the historic farmers' struggle at Delhi's borders to press the Bhagwant Mann government to accept their demands.
Ashok Dhawale, President, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), is of the opinion that farmers must be given a bonus on account of the crop loss and steep rise in the cost of inputs. Speaking to NewsClick over phone, he said he is consistently getting complaints from farmers that they did not get the due price because the traders were hesitant to pay a similar price of wheat as their counterparts in Punjab and Haryana.
Talking about the national scenario, he said that farmers are facing the double whammy of lower quantity of production and depressed procurement since the government agencies are not opening a sufficient number of procurement centres. "Hence, the farmers are forced to make distress sales and consequently earn lesser in this period of crisis. This bonus should also be provided to those farmers who have already sold their wheat to government agencies," the AIKS leader said.
He further said, "The farmers are facing a severe loss due to crop losses to the tune of 20-25% of production this year due to the extreme and untimely hot weather in March-April in most wheat-producing regions. Even then, the Modi government has not procured even half of the declared quota of 44.4 million tons of wheat this year. If the government agencies do not come forward to procure the targeted quantity of wheat, there is a danger of food insecurity and a steep price rise of wheat flour/atta and other food grains in the near future."
Dhawale added, "Taking advantage of the situation, private traders and corporate companies are busy purchasing large quantities of wheat for hoarding and profiteering. On the other hand, the traders are hiking the price of flour/atta and thus taking advantage of the situation with huge profiteering through black marketing. With the withdrawal of the government agencies, the Modi government is trying to promote private traders and large food corporate companies to take over the agriculture market, thus trying their best to facilitate corporate takeover of agriculture."
As per the data released by the Press Information Bureau, the government has procured 180 lakh tonnes of wheat till May 14 this season.
Dhawale maintained that the government did not calculate the domestic requirement while permitting the exports to foreign countries. He said, "The Modi government has been promoting wheat export in recent years. In 2020-21, the export of wheat was 21.55 lakh tones, while in 2021-22, it was enhanced to 72.15 lakh tonnes. This policy had affected the domestic food stock, and due to the shortage of wheat stock, the government was forced to distribute rice in regions where wheat had been distributed earlier. The government is unable to manage the precarious situation, and this will lead to the danger of destroying food security for people while opening ways for widespread distress sale among the peasantry."