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NEW DELHI : The union ministry of consumers affairs, food and public distribution has decided to allow the Food Corporation of India to procure wheat in Punjab and Haryana including the Union Territory of Chandigarh for central pool by relaxing the fair average quality (FAQ) norms of shrivelled and broken grains up to 18% without any value cut. 

A statement from the ministry said that the decision will reduce the hardship of farmers and avoid distress sale of wheat.

The development comes after the state governments of Punjab and Haryana wrote to the Department of Food and Public Distribution (DFPD) seeking relaxation in Uniform Specifications of wheat for the Rabi market season (RMS) 2022-23. The limit of shrivelled and broken grains is 6% and relaxation was sought up to 20%. 

Central teams were deputed to Punjab and Haryana during April – May 2022 to collect very large size samples from the mandis and these were analysed in FCI labs. The results indicated presence of shrivelled and broken grains in varying percentages and beyond FAQ norms, the statement said.

The emergence of shrivelled grains is a natural phenomenon appearing as a result of extreme heat wave that enveloped the northern part of the country in the month of March. These adverse weather conditions are beyond the control of the farmers and hence, they should not be penalized for such natural occurrence, it said.

“Accordingly, the change in texture of the grain deserves to be sympathetically considered by government to ease the hardship of farmers. Thus, suitable relaxation in FAQ norms would protect interests of farmers and promote efficient procurement and distribution of food grains," it said.

During the RMS 2021-22, wheat production was 1,095 lakh metric tonne and procurement was 43.3 metric tonne. During RMS 2022-23, wheat production was estimated at 111.3 million tonne. But early onset of Summer (by end of March 2022) resulted in shrivelled grains and resultant drop in yield per acre in Punjab and Haryana. 

The all-India procurement target has been revised to 19.5 metric tonne of wheat. A similar decision was also taken in 2020-21 when FAQ norms were relaxed up to 16% to protect the interest of the farmers.

In a bid to increase government procurement, the Centre has asked wheat producing states and union territories with procurement closing dates expiring early to continue procurement till 31 May, 2022.

The latest measures to support farmers come a day after the union government banned wheat exports with immediate effect stating that a sudden spike in prices of wheat has sparked food security concerns in India and neighbouring countries. 

Wheat prices have been surging after the Ukraine war impacted nearly a third of the global exports. Further, the heatwave in the northern states has also impacted the wheat crop.

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