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Bihar: Thousands of Maize Growers in Distress After Lockdown, Untimely Rains

Maize growing farmers in the Koshi and Seemanchal region stare at heavy losses after another lockdown this year, followed by Cyclone Yaas leaving crops damaged.
Bihar: Thousands of Maize Growers in Distress After Lockdown, Untimely Rains

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Patna: Dhruv Yadav, a marginal maize growing farmer, is upset after he suffered a heavy loss yet again. Already left worried by the ongoing lockdown, Yadav was left to curse the untimely, heavy rains late last month due to Cyclone Yaas. The rainfall damaged his harvested crops as well as those which were standing.

“I was expecting to make a good profit this summer in April after putting in months of hard labour and heavy investment from a likely bumper maize crop. However, first the COVID second wave resulted in the lockdown last month and after that heavy rainfall with thunderstorms damaged the crops, and my dreams,” said Yadav, who had grown maize in five acres of land in Baisi block in Bihar's Purnea district.

Yadav said he and those that worked on his farm have been busy drying harvested crops in the sun in the last few days and harvesting the standing crops that were badly damaged. "My harvested crops were damaged due knee-deep water in the field after heavy rains occurred for four days due to the cyclone. As it was harvesting season, we leave our crops in the field to dry in the sun. We never expected such heavy rainfall; it water-logged our farm land. Even standing crops were damaged,” he added.

Yadav is among thousands of maize growers in the flood-prone Seemanchal region in Bihar, which, along with the Koshi region, is known as a hub of maize cultivation. As per official data, maize has become the primary crop for farmers in Purnea, Kishanganj ,Araria and Katihar districts of Seemanchal. Madhepura, Saharsa,Supaul and Khagaria districts of Koshi have seen the same phenomenon. Maize is also cultivated on a large scale by farmers in Bhagalpur and Samastipur districts.

Like Yadav, most of the maize-growers were either drying their crops in nearby dry fields, on rooftops, roads and on high-rise embankments to minimise their heavy losses. "It has become a common practice these days to dry maize, both harvested and standing crop," observed Suresh Mandal, a school teacher.

Deep yellow maize is popularly known as a 'golden crop' among growers for the high profit it fetched farmers the year before last.

“We suffered heavy losses last year due to the lockdown, which resulted in a price crash after demand was hit. All of this badly affected farmers like me. There was no government support as we hardly get the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for maize, forcing us to resort to distress sales,” Mahesh Das, another maize grower from the neighbouring Madhepura district said.

Das recalled that unlike 2019 when he and others made a decent profit by selling their corn due to exceptionally high rates, 2020 brought a lockdown and resultant distress sales. ”We are certain we will be making a loss this time due to another lockdown too,” he said.

He added that even if some farmers manage to save harvested crops and will also harvest standing crops, they will not get the right price due to low demand and the absence of traders coming in from outside .

According to him, he sold corn to local traders at between Rs 900 and Rs 1000 per quintal last year as against Rs 1,800 to Rs 2,000 in 2019 . “The situation is likely to repeat. Local traders are offering low rates for maize to farmers, taking advantage of a situation created by the lockdown and citing poor demand."

Mahendra Yadav, convenor of Koshi Nav Nirman Manch (KNNM), said maize growers are not getting MSP for their crop and are left to the mercy of traders who exploit them. "We have been demanding MSP for maize farmers like for paddy and wheat growers. But the government has ignored us till date,” he added.

Yadav had filed a PIL in the Patna High Court in June last year, seeking a direction to the state government to procure maize at MSP from farmers. The court refused to issue any direction in the matter.

The petitioner said that the state government opposed his petition on the grounds that procurement of a particular crop is a policy issue and since FCI godowns were likely to be full of other food grain, any decision to fix MSP would be contrary to public interest and against the policy.

Manch leaders recalled that over six years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised adequate MSP for the maize crop during his election campaign ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections.

According to officials from the agriculture department in the state, nearly 65% of the total maize from Bihar is grown in the Seemanchal and Koshi regions alone. As per government data, maize is grown in about 1,40,000 hectares in the Seemanchal region and over about 90,000 hectares in the Koshi region.

More than 17 lakh MT of maize is grown annually in these regions. Of this, more than 14 lakh MT is purchased by traders and MNCs and sent outside the area, while around three lakh MT is consumed locally, according to data till 2019.

Bihar is India’s third largest producer of maize. The state produced 1.36 million tons of the crop in 2005-06. This increased to 3.85 million tons in 2016-17, as the high-yielding maize of Rabi season has been replacing the winter crops of wheat and paddy in the state.

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