NEW DELHI :
Farmers across India are saddled with large stocks of wheat, pulses and oilseeds because of the ongoing lockdown, even as the winter crop harvest draws to a close.
The 40-day lockdown to control the spread of covid-19 infections has forced farmers in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to wait for wholesale markets to resume trade.
So far, government purchases at minimum support prices (MSP) has moved at a snail’s pace as states have limited the number of farmers who can visit procurement centres to maintain social distancing.
Only a third of the traders in the wholesale markets are allowed to purchase on rotation, said Ranjit Singh Raju, a farmer from Sri Ganganagar district of Rajasthan.
Trade in just two crops, barley and mustard, has been allowed to reduce footfall.
“Opening purchase centres at the village level is the only way to speed up procurement," Raju said.
Delayed procurement is risky for farmers who do not have adequate storage and are forced to leave the harvested crop on the field covered with polythene sheets.
Data from the Food Corporation of India (FCI) show that till 22 April, the central agency procured about 3.4 million tonnes of wheat; it has set a target to procure 40 million tonnes during the rabi marketing season.
The numbers are likely to go up as states have resumed procurement operations beginning 20 April, but in a staggered manner. Last year, over 34 million tonnes of wheat was procured by state governments on behalf of the FCI.
Wheat procurement is moving very slowly since only 50 farmers are allowed to sell in the local mandi in a day, said Sandeep Singhroha, a farmer from Karnal district of Haryana, which is the second largest contributor to the central foodgrain stocks after Punjab.
“Thirty percent farmers who did not register for MSP procurement have been left out and at the current pace; it may take several months for farmers to sell their crop," he said.
This could raise the financial pressure on many farmers who depend on immediate post-harvest sales to repay loans and begin preparations for planting the next crop in June.
While farmers are waiting to sell their wheat at the support prices, wholesale prices of crops such as mustard and barley are significantly lower than minimum support prices. For instance, farmers in Sri Ganganagar who managed to sell mustard got no more than ₹3,800 per quintal, about 14% lower than the MSP.
In Karnal, farmers are selling the oilseed at rates ₹200-400 below support prices.
In Madhya Pradesh, where the agriculturally prosperous Malwa region spanning districts like Indore and Ujjain is struggling to contain a rapid spread of coronavirus infections, wholesale grain markets are allowing minimal trade.
“Since traders have been allowed to purchase directly from farmers, they are offering prices far lower than support prices," said Kedar Sirohi, a farmer leader from Harda district. According to Sirohi, farmers in need of money are selling their wheat at around ₹1,600 per quintal, substantially lower than the minimum support price of ₹1,925 per quintal.