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How Madhya Pradesh has beaten Punjab to become new wheat basket of India

Last year, MP topped Punjab in wheat procurement and comfortably beat its own target of 100 LMT. It is rising at a time when other states have stagnated.

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New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh has increased its wheat procurement target for this rabi season to 125 lakh metric tonnes (LMT), a year after recording the highest wheat procurement of almost 130 LMT last year, as against a target of 100 LMT.

The central Indian state now accounts for 8.30 lakh hectare (LHA) of the 9.93 LHA increase in the area under wheat crop for this year’s procurement season.

In 2019-20, MP’s mark of 185 LMT trailed only UP’s massive 320-89 LMT, beating Punjab’s 182.07 LMT. However, UP doesn’t contribute as much to the central pool of procurement due to factors like unavailability of extensive mandi structure, and reluctance of the state government to procure a lot meant that MP’s contribution to the central pool was the highest at 129.42 LMT, beating previous leader Punjab’s 127.14 LMT.

The fresh procurement cycle is set to begin on 15 March, with the minimum support price rising by Rs 50 per quintal over last year’s Rs 1,925. And MP’s food officials say the state is set to maintain its leadership in production and procurement.

Faiz Ahmad Kidwai, secretary of the food and civil supplies department of Madhya Pradesh, told ThePrint: “Due to the Covid-19 lockdown last year, the government procured most of the wheat harvest in the state as other private avenues were closed. This led to a bumper increase in procurement from 67.25 LMT in 2019 to 129.42 in 2020.

“Similarly, we have maintained a steep increase in wheat procurement target of 125 LMT in upcoming rabi wheat harvest season against the 100 LMT last year, and are confident of surpassing states like Punjab in becoming the leading wheat contributor in the central pool this year too.”

Kidwai added: “The actual wheat procurement may surpass the target of 125 LMT, in accordance with last year, when the target was 100 LMT but the procurement touched almost 130 LMT. The registration process of farmers for wheat purchases ends on 20 February, and after that, we’ll get a clear estimate of wheat acreage and number of farmers contributing to wheat purchase.”


Also read: Rice with zinc, wheat with protein — Bio-fortified crops can fight India’s hidden hunger


Surge in production and acreage 

MP’s jump in wheat production and area under cultivation comes at a time when other states have witnessed stagnation or much smaller increases.

The 2019-20 production mark of 185.83 LMT was a 16.87 per cent increase over the 159 LMT it cultivated in 2017-18. The figures for other top wheat producers have stayed relatively similar between 2017-18 and 2019-20 — 178 and 182 for Punjab and 318-320 for UP respectively — while Haryana (107 to 120 LMT) and Rajasthan (93 to 105 LMT) have each registered 12 per cent growth.

It’s a similar story in terms of increase in area under wheat crop — MP’s mark has risen by 37.3 per cent to 79.68 LHA from 58.03 LHA in 2017-18, while the corresponding numbers are 35.16 and 35 LHA for Punjab, 99.05 and 98.12 LHA for UP, 33.14 and 29.18 LHA for Rajasthan, and a decline to 24.9 LHA from the earlier 25.26 LHA for Haryana.

The only reason UP remains ahead of MP in overall production and acreage is that the former mostly cultivates wheat in the rabi season, while MP produces other rabi crops such as gram, masur dal and mustard at a large scale too.

New network established under lockdown boosted MP

Agriculture experts also expect MP’s contribution to increase in the 2021 season, in terms of both production and procurement.

Dr V.S. Tomar, former vice-chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya (JNKVV) in Jabalpur told ThePrint: “For the last few years, monsoon rainfall has been above normal in Madhya Pradesh, which has led to bumper production and acreage increase in both wheat and paddy, leading to the highest-ever procurement during the lockdown. This year too, we expect an increase in production and procurement in wheat by at least 5 per cent.”

State agriculture department officials credit the wheat procurement network established during the Covid-19 lockdown — soon after a political crisis in the state resulted in the fall of the Kamal Nath government and the swearing-in of a one-man cabinet in BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan — for the increase. This network, they said, would help expand procurement in future too.

“Last year, a large number of farmers registered through the Kisan app developed for wheat procurement in the state. Officials then matched the registration data with crop damage and acreage survey. After this, based on the trends of the last 10 years, an estimate was made of how much wheat can be purchased, and necessary arrangements were made,” said an agriculture department official who didn’t want to be identified.

“An SMS was sent to most of the farmers that on a particular day, they should reach the procurement centre. About 4,500 procurement centres were set up in 52 districts of the state so that farmers do not have to go far to sell their wheat. Also, from the time the farmer came to the market to the storage of grain to the payment reaching his account, human interaction was kept to a minimum. By the time the farmer’s trolley put the grain in a storage silo bag, the money was credited to his account,” he explained.

The official added that the government started the process by sending messages to 55 farmers, and increased the number as the experiment proved successful.


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


Types of wheat in MP 

Farmers in Madhya Pradesh grow traditional high-yielding varieties of wheat such as HI 8663, MACS 2846, NIDW 295 and GW 1189. Most of these go towards the Public Distribution System.

The wheat produced in central India, particularly in MP, is of the durum variety — high in protein and gluten content. This is used in making products such as wheat bran, whole wheat flour, fine wheat flour, semolina, macaroni and pasta.

However, farmers in a few areas of MP also cultivate the most premium export variety in India, known as ‘Sharbati’ or Sehore wheat after the region of the state that produces it. It’s also called ‘Golden Grain’, because of its distinctive golden sheen, while the ‘Sharbati’ moniker refers to its sweet taste, which it gets from the presence of higher quantities of simple sugars like glucose and sucrose. ‘Sharbati’ is cultivated in the state’s more fertile black and alluvial soil pockets.

Tomar said: “Sharbati is cultivated in low-lying areas of the state — Sehore, Bhopal, Vidisha, Hoshangabad, Raisen and Sagar — which have heavy waterlogging in the farmlands. The water is extracted in October and November, and then it’s sown. This wheat is even exported as ‘Madhya Pradesh’ or ‘Sehore’ wheat and flour. Its kneaded flour and chapatis have abnormal elasticity and dissolves upon chewing, like paan.”

The former JNKVV V-C added that MP is trying to get a Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Sharbati wheat to further boost its export and production, as it is currently cultivated on a comparatively small scale — just 10-20 per cent of total wheat acreage — because it has low productivity of 30 quintals/hectare against 40-50 quintals/hectare for other varieties.

Repercussions of wheat cultivation 

However, agriculture experts also caution against extensive cultivation of wheat in Madhya Pradesh, one of India’s warmest regions with an average daily high 33 degrees Celsius. Wheat, being a water-intensive crop, may further deplete groundwater in areas of shortage, like Bundelkhand, with its unique granite topography that prevents rainwater seepage and groundwater table recharge.

Tomar said: “Extensive wheat cultivation has led to dwindling water levels in the state. In Gwalior and Morena, for example, the water level till a few decades ago was 40-50 feet, but today it’s 400-500 feet. In the next 20-30 years, areas such as Bundelkhand and Malwa will not even get drinking groundwater. So, we should diversify from wheat and paddy as soon as possible.”

He added: “The government should increase MSP, give a bonus on top of it, and assure procurement for pulses and oilseeds to promote crop diversification, away from wheat and paddy. However, wheat is less prone to pests and also provides fodder for the livestock, so farmers find it difficult to go from wheat to other crops such as pulses and oilseeds.”


Also read: Govt procurement policy of wheat, rice aggravating water crisis — draft National Water Policy


 

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