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How a surprise revolution in Chhattisgarh made it No. 2 for paddy procurement in India

Chhattisgarh is 7th in rice production, but procures much more than other states thanks to its policies. Better-paid farmers have ensured higher yield too.

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New Delhi/Raipur: Chhattisgarh is sometimes called the ‘rice bowl of India’, but it’s finally beginning to justify that moniker.

In 2020-21, the state ranked second across India in terms of overall paddy procurement — with 92 lakh metric tonnes (LMT), only behind Punjab’s 202.82 LMT — and is fourth among contributors to the central pool of rice through the Food Corporation of India (FCI), sending 39.76 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of the grain, behind only Punjab’s 135 LMT, Uttar Pradesh’s 44.78 LMT and Odisha’s 42.22 LMT.

This seeming mismatch in numbers occurs because states procure rice in paddy form, but the central pool counts the rice produced from it — on average, 100 grams of paddy produce about 64 grams of rice in modern mills, and 58.6 per cent in traditional ones.

The bumper procurement of 92 LMT in 2020-21 continues Chhattisgarh’s rise over the last couple of years — 80 LMT of paddy was procured in 2018-19, and 83 LMT in 2019-20. Overall, paddy procurement in Chhattisgarh has surged by 56 per cent since registering the figure of 59 LMT in 2015-16.

However, in terms of production of rice, Chhattisgarh comes in seventh with 65.27 LMT, while West Bengal tops the charts with 162.42 LMT, as of 2018-19, according to data from the central Directorate of Rice Development.

There are three key reasons for this upswing in Chhattisgarh’s fortunes — the state government’s bonus scheme on top of the central minimum support price (MSP), improved irrigation facilities, and a more efficient mandi procurement system than Bihar, UP and West Bengal.

Also Read: Save Punjab from desertification, move paddy-wheat to UP, Bihar, Bengal — agronomist SS Johl

MSP bonus

In 2019, the Chhattisgarh government declared that during the 2020-21 kharif marketing season, under the Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Yojana, it would procure paddy at Rs 2,500 per quintal — over Rs 600 above the MSP announced by the Centre. According to the government’s estimates, based on an average productivity of 15 quintals per acre, this would work out to an incentive of about Rs 10,000 per acre.

Chhattisgarh Agriculture Minister Ravindra Choubey told ThePrint: “The state has compelling climate conditions befitting paddy cultivation, leading to ever-increasing procurement in the state of 92 LMT.”

However, Choubey alleged that the central government is not honouring the promise to take the remaining paddy “as they claim that we will use additional procurement cost as a bonus for the farmers”.

“Instead of rewarding the farmer, the central government is trying to discourage them. It is not a bonus but an input cost for the farmers of the state as a similar amount is paid by Odisha, Telangana and other states, so what’s wrong if Chhattisgarh is paying more than the Centre and other states?” he asked.

M. Geeta, the state’s agriculture secretary, told ThePrint: “The debt relief announced by the Chhattisgarh government along with better management of rice crop inputs such as seeds, fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides, have helped in boosting rice production. Additionally, the farmers have also been given financial support at the rate of Rs 10,000 per acre.”

She added: “The state government has also exhibited strong political will to procure paddy, despite the FCI refusing to lift that stock according to an earlier agreement.”

Improvements in irrigation

The increasing availability of assured, mechanised irrigation for the water-intensive paddy crop is also a reason why every paddy-related statistic in Chhattisgarh has trended upward. 

According to state agriculture department data accessed by ThePrint, the total area under mechanised or assured irrigation in Chhattisgarh has increased to 13 lakh hectares in 2020 from 9.68 lakh hectares in 2018. This was achieved by establishing new irrigation infrastructure as well as restoring what already existed.

In 2020 alone, new irrigation infrastructure covered an area of 45,000 hectares, while the previous year, 84 old and new irrigation infrastructures were either renovated or established to provide assured irrigation on 52,334 hectares of farmland. 

Also, the distribution of over 42,000 solar pumps under the Saur Sujala Yojana has provided farmers unfettered access to groundwater, according to a state agriculture department official who did not wish to be identified. This scheme was launched in 2016 to provide subsidised solar-powered irrigation pumps of 3 horsepower (costing Rs 3.5 lakh) and 5 horsepower (costing Rs 4.5 lakh).

Giriraj Shrivastava, a senior agronomist and professor at Raipur’s Indira Gandhi Agriculture University, said: “Most of the paddy procurement comes from the area which is witnessing the growth of well-developed canals, pumping sets and other irrigation infrastructure. However, apart from this, natural water reservoirs like ponds, lakes and wells can also be found in abundance in the state, which has also been instrumental in acting as an alternative means of irrigation for paddy.”

Shrivastava added that around 60 per cent of the cropped area under paddy gets watered through assured irrigation measures.

This increase in irrigation has led to soaring paddy production. Shrivastava pointed out that the productivity of rice in rain-fed areas ranges between 10 and 11 quintals per hectare, while in irrigated areas, it is 16-19 quintals per hectare. 

Also Read: Why Haryana’s plan to move farmers away from paddy is floundering

PDS, on-time payments boost

According to some farm experts and civil servants, many other factors have also contributed to the surge in paddy procurement in Chhattisgarh. 

In 2013, the Raman Singh-led BJP government in Chhattisgarh announced that under the state’s Food and Nutrition Security Act, 2012, families holding the blue ration card (priority category) would be provided with a monthly supply of food grains at the revised rate of Re 1 per kg from 1 January 2014.

“The orders to provide 35 kg of food grains (wheat and rice) at Re 1 per kg to the ration card holder families of priority category from 1 January onwards, has already been issued to the respective district administrations,” a government release had said.

T. Nanda Kumar, former Union agriculture, food and public distribution secretary, told ThePrint: “The simultaneous reform of the Public Distribution System also propelled procurement in Chhattisgarh as rice was distributed at Re 1 per kg. Moreover, there was a bonus over MSP for procured rice. This created a combination of the increase on both the distribution and procurement sides.”

As a result, he explained, Chhattisgarh started to procure local grains to fill its major PDS requirements.

“Moreover, major logistics and technological reforms such as geo-tagging facilities for procurement and storage, along with ensuring farmers got their payments on time also boosted the rice procurement in states,” Nanda Kumar said, adding that since farmers got a better price for their crops, they took better care of them, and that increased productivity.

According to the central Directorate of Rice Development, rice productivity in Chhattisgarh increased to 21.01 quintals per hectare in 2016-17 from 16.6 quintals per hectare in 2014-15. 

“In the beginning, Chhattisgarh farmers were getting far below MSP. Then, the state decided to scale up the procurement in 2004-05 by reorganising its civil supplies department to procure as much as possible. Initially, the state didn’t have rice mills, so the paddy had to be sent to mills in Odisha and the rice brought back. Then it incentivised rice millers to modernise and expand,” Nanda Kumar added.

“Chhattisgarh also expanded the procurement centres to bring more farmers into the fold. It took two or three years to deliver a noticeable performance, but then farmers shifted to paddy as they were getting better returns from the government compared to local private traders.”

In 2017-18, 76 per cent of the registered farmers availed of government procurement, but over the next two years, this figure rose to 92 per cent and 94 per cent. In 2019-20, 18.39 lakh farmers sold paddy to the government at MSP.

Cultivated area much larger than numbers show

According to the Chhattisgarh government, paddy is grown on nearly half — 27 lakh hectares — of the state’s net 55.4 lakh hectare cropped area. The acreage has increased from 21 lakh hectares in 2015-16, representing an average increase of one lakh hectares every year.

However, experts say the official acreage figure is actually on the lower side — the true area under paddy cultivation is 10-15 lakh hectares more. 

P.K. Dave, former agriculture secretary of Chhattisgarh, told ThePrint: “Total paddy crop area in Chhattisgarh is around 37-40 lakh hectares. However, most of these additional paddy growers are small and marginalised farmers who are barely able to sustain themselves, and hence, don’t sell to the government. Also, some grow paddy on government land, but cannot qualify for procurement.” 

Sandeep Sharma, an agriculture expert and former national executive member of the Bharatiya Kisan Morcha, said: “Crop area of paddy had been consistently increasing in Chhattisgarh ever since 2003, when the bonus on MSP was first introduced by the newly formed state government (headed by BJP’s Raman Singh). This bonus drove more and more farmers towards paddy cropping, raising the procurement figures from nearly 6 lakh metric tonnes in the first year of the state’s formation in 2000-01 to 92 lakh metric tonnes in 2020-21.”

This once again boils down to the impact of bonus MSP — it acts as an incentive to farmers and traders, even from outside the state, to sell their paddy in Chhattisgarh.

Rajneesh Gupta, secretary, Agrocrat Society for Rural Development, an NGO that works to help farmers get better returns on their yields, said there are a large number of farmers who do not produce in accordance with their cropped area size, but sell a large amount of paddy importing it from neighbouring states. “This goes undetected despite all efforts,” he said.

Gupta added that Chhattisgarh has miles to go in terms of total production account. “It is far behind many states due to its comparatively traditional form of agricultural practice and minimal use of technological support,” he said.

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)

Also Read: Why Punjab’s farmers are dumping water-guzzling paddy for cash-crop cotton


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