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Exclusives - 16 April, 2020

How lockdown has battered MP farmers

Many farmers in Madhya Pradesh have a long tale of hardships and losses to tell since the national lockdown announced on March 24 due to the spread of Coronavirus... #LockdownbattersMPfarmers...

Bhopal: While Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday undertook crop procurement at over 4,000 centres across the state barring Bhopal, Indore and Ujjain districts worst affected by Covid-19 many farmers have a long tale of hardships and losses since the national lockdown announced on March 24.

The decision came at a time when the state was in middle of the harvesting season left farmers in the lurch. Harvesting is undertaken in a phased manner in Madhya Pradesh starting from February first week in Malwa-Nimar region and in Bundelkhand by the end of the month. In the central parts, including Bhopal and Hoshangabad divisions, the process commences from March and in areas in the vicinity of dams the harvesting of multiple crops continues in April and mid-May.

However, in addition to around 5,000 harvesters, close to 10,000 combine machines are brought from Punjab along with operators. Most of these heavy machines and the workforce hadn’t reached Madhya Pradesh when the lockdown was announced and the state had to rely on local machines, rents of which spiralled.

Harvesting cost, which was around Rs 800 per 20 quintal of crop, rose to Rs 1,500-1,800 per 20 quintal this year. The harvesters also worked for long hours to make up for shortage of resources.

Labourers also were unavailable despite MP being a labour-centric state as local workforce switches to other states for better wages, said Shivkumar Sharma ‘Kakkaji’, convener of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdur Sangh (RKMS). He said that states like Kerala offer up to Rs 700 a day to labourers and in Punjab they get Rs 400-500 per day. Besides, the workforce from Bundelkhand is entirely engaged in construction projects in Delhi.

“With the lockdown coming like a bolt from the blue, these labourers were stuck where they were,” said Sharma, but added that somehow the farmers with extra efforts have managed to almost complete harvesting as of now though at a much higher investment.

As the harvesting was delayed, standing crops were reduced to ashes by fire incidents in many places, with reports coming in from Vidisha, Jabalpur, Sheopur and Sohagpur, added Kakkaji.

However, fire wasn’t the only menace farmers had to encounter as delayed harvesting also resulted in plants losing grain seeds at farms mostly of wheat and gram (chana), said Kedar Sirohi, working president of Kisan Congress in Madhya Pradesh and member of the Kisan Salahkar Parishad.

Crops loss due to this could be as much as 5% of the entire harvest as against normal 1% lost in mechanical harvesting, he added. Sirohi is of the view that amid the lockdown, government procurement will be under severe pressure as limited farmers would be allowed to sell crops daily at centres mostly developed at farmlands.

To add to this, the procurement centres are summoning 21 lakh registered farmers through SMSes to sell crops and that too six in one day to maintain social distancing. The process started with small and marginal farmers on Wednesday.

If the procurement stretches over a month and the state witnesses an early monsoon, the centres on farmlands would have to be closed to enable farmers to start their next crop season, added Sirohi, who suggested that government agencies use wide and less-used pucca roads as storage places and mechanised procurement for speedy buying.

Among other issues, the procurement is also marred by the absence of hammals (porters) as mostly 50 to 70% of the ones used in procurement come in here from Bihar and are absent this time. The porters of crop mandis could be roped in but many say that they won’t be interested as engagement of agents in the process would ensure that instead of Rs 12 per bag, they would actually receive half the amount.

Farmers also allege that despite an announcement by the administration on government buying fruits and vegetables locally, this isn’t happening as of now. The wheat bowl of Madhya Pradesh, Sehore, too hasn't been spared by the lockdown hit.

“Right price, right time is the golden mantra for farming which has been missing this time,” former Congress MLA Shailendra Patel from Ichhawar in Sehore told News18.

As harvesting was delayed, plants lost grain seeds and this could be as much as 15 to 20% crop loss, said the leader, adding that late season showers also ensured the quality of the wheat crop took a hit. Maintaining that milk and vegetables have limited buyers, Patel said farmers are hardly left with any cash as their phased selling was stalled and delayed too due to the lockdown crisis.

The procurement anomalies were seen on day one as a farmer from Sehore said that he did not turn up for selling the crop as his buying limit of 50 quintal of last year has been reduced to 5 quintal this year and transportation expenses would have ensured that he lost heavily after selling the produce.

The Malwa region known for its rich farming of fruits, vegetables besides cash crops is also hit this time despite having a good harvest.

For example, farmers from Neemuch send their vegetables to districts like Bhilwara, Jaipur in Rajasthan and other areas, but this year they have no permits to do so. Farmers are selling whatever local mandis can consume. The local orange crop too has no buyers.

Kukdeshwar area grows paan (betel leaf) which is supplied to Delhi, Meerut and other parts, but as transportation is closed, farmers are forced to sell the produce to traders from Dhar at throwaway prices, said local farmer Umrao Singh Gurjar from Neemuch.

Several districts have reported that farmers are throwing away vegetables and fruits or offering them to cattle as there are no buyers.

However, a bigger challenge awaits in Covid-19 ravaged districts Bhopal, Ujjain and Indore where government procurement would start later.

What if other districts complete the procurement quota of the state by the time it starts in these three districts, Ramesh Patidar, a farmer from Depalpur in Indore, asked.

No one seems to have an answer for this seems right now including government officials who intend to chalk out a procurement plan for these districts later..........................

(Source: News18)

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