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Rabi procurement picks up amid lockdown, 4 states buy wheat despite labour shortage

Rabi season contributes nearly 50% of the food grain production in India. Procurement target of 40.7 million tonnes has been set for this season.

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New Delhi: Over a week after the procurement season began amid a nationwide lockdown due to Covid-19, the purchase of rabi produce in India’s major agriculture states has picked up pace despite logistical hurdles including a shortage of labour.

As on Wednesday, the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED) and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) procured 1,67,570 metric tonnes (MT) of pulses and 1,11,638 MT of oilseeds on minimum support price, according to data shared by the national agencies.

The value of these procurement is Rs 1,313 crore, which has benefited 1,74,284 farmers across Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and other states. While wheat has been procured in these four states, pulses have been purchased in some other states too.

Wheat is the most crucial rabi crop in north India, and the government has set a procurement target of 40.7 million tonnes this season.

In Punjab, wheat procurement stood at 13.05 lakh tonnes Wednesday. This is 324 per cent more than last year’s figure in the comparative year-ago period. In Haryana and UP, procurement stood at 2,89,140 tonnes and 98,858 tonnes, respectively.

While the state governments are trying to ensure a robust procurement of rabi crops, lack of labour and jute bags are among the several hurdles in the procurement framework of wheat and other crops.

Rabi season contributes nearly 50 per cent of the food grain production in India.

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Punjab: 4,000 procurement centres planned in all  

Punjab has doubled the procurement centres to 3,691 in 22 districts across the state as compared to last year. This will be further increased to 4,000, according to the Punjab State Agricultural Marketing Board.

The Punjab government is hoping to procure 137 lakh MT of wheat this year, up from 130 lakh MT — this was the biggest contribution of wheat to the central pool in 2019-20.

The state has issued over 27 lakh e-coupons to farmers for bringing the crop to markets, where social distancing is being ensured to fight the Covid-19 threat by dividing the floor into separate areas for sacks, farmers and machinery.

Farmers are being allowed to take several coupons each day, depending on space at the purchase centre. This is being taken care by a 30-member control room at the Punjab Mandi Board.

However, there are some issues in the process as well. So far, Punjab has managed to procure only 2.8 lakh bales of jute as against the requisite 6 lakh. But the state is looking to meet this deficit through polypropylene bags.

“Jute bales shortage in Punjab would be met through polypropylene bags as orders have been placed for tarpaulin also most procured stocks would be stored in the open as an area for stocking had been earmarked already,” K.A.P. Sinha, Punjab Food and Civil Supplies Secretary, told ThePrint.

The state is also struggling to manage a labour shortfall both at farms and markets to ensure seamless harvest and procurement.

“The state has around 1,496 clusters of migrant labour across all the districts along with 164 shelters, which are being utilised to deal with a labour shortage in rabi harvest across the state. Also, NREGA workers in the villages will also be utilised if the further need arises,” said Agriculture Secretary Kahan Singh Pannu.

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Haryana: 100 farmers can bring produce to markets daily

Haryana, the second biggest contributor of wheat to the central pool last year with 93 lakh MT, has increased the procurement centres six-fold to 1,887 from 377 last year. The state government is planning to take this up to 2,000.

Under the state’s procurement framework, farmers need to register themselves on the portal ‘Meri Fasal Mera Byora’. Post registration, 100 farmers are allowed on a daily basis to bring their produce to markets. The market committees ensure that the produce including wheat, mustard and black gram, is brought only after an online e-gate pass is issued to the farmers, who are registered and verified on the portal.

However, the state administration is struggling to get the procurement agencies to purchase wheat directly from farmers in the markets as aarthias, or commission agents, continue to strike at markets across the state.

Aarthias have said they will continue their strike until the government withdraws the e-procurement system and makes payments to farmers through commission agents. Conforming to their demand will devoid the purpose of the framework that has been designed to ensure maximum social distancing,” said Chander Shekhar Khare, Director, Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, Haryana.

“We are working on a procedure to ensure complete procurement of wheat through agencies where aarthias are not participating in the procurement process,” he added.

Madhya Pradesh: Door-to-door procurement

In Madhya Pradesh, which was the third largest contributor to the central pool at 67 lakh MT, special arrangements have been made to ensure door-to-door procurement.

Further, farmers are being called in two shifts for selling wheat in markets, with just 20 farmers from each panchayat allowed to sell in a shift.

The state government has also reintroduced a system called “sauda patra or parchi” after several years under which a farmer has to bring only a sample of the crop in the market based on which the buyer can purchase crop from the farmer’s doorstep or any other designated place even as the sale gets recorded in the market’s records. It is a form of contract between a trader and a farmer, which is attested and verified by the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee.

According to the contract, a trader can buy sample produce but is given full custody only after making the complete payment.

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Uttar Pradesh: Online token system for farmers  

Uttar Pradesh, the fourth biggest contributor of wheat, has set up 5,500 purchase centres for procurement this year.

The state has also started a system of online tokens under which a farmer has to contact the nearby market and submit his registration number. The person in charge of the market then generates an online token which is sent to the farmer. However, if a farmer has not been able to register for the online token procedure, s/he can arrive at the market with the Aadhaar card and get registered on the spot.

Central initiative

The Union agriculture ministry has launched a mobile application named ‘Kisan Rath’ to facilitate transportation search of farmers and traders who are users of eNAM (online trading platform National Agriculture Market) and non-eNAM for selling agriculture and horticulture produce.

The transportation includes the movement of goods from farms to markets, farmer producer organisation centres, village haats, railway stations and warehouses. However, transportation also includes the movement of goods from markets intra-state and inter-state.

This application has over 11.37 lakh trucks and 2.3 lakh transporters linked.

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