West Bengal’s agriculture department has estimated that 35 per cent of the monsoon paddy might go waste if not harvested in time, an exercise that has been badly hit with farmers lacking the cash to pay for labour. The estimate is part of an agriculture department report, commissioned to assess the impact of demonetisation on monsoon paddy.
West Bengal is India’s largest producer of rice at 158 lakh tonnes a year. Of this, nearly 110 lakh tonnes is harvested during the kharif season. Going by the agriculture department’s estimate, an official said, the kharif output would come down by some 38 lakh tonnes, reducing the annual output to 120 lakh tonnes.
The report says not harvesting the rice produced in the kharif season would mean that the crop would rot in the fields in changing weather conditions. “The kharif crop needs to be harvested by end-November. If this isn’t done, a large portion of the grain will fall off with the cold setting in. It will result in massive crop loss.”
The problem is particularly pronounced in Bardhaman district — known as the rice bowl of Bengal. According to Bardhaman district magistrate Soumitra Mohan, “Massive problems are being faced by farmers and labourers, who depend on cash for harvesting the monsoon paddy and then sowing potatoes for the winters. Many farmers aren’t being able to harvest their crops because they don’t have the money to pay labourers.”
Further complicating the issue is the severe liquidity crunch being faced by cooperative banks in rural areas. Farmers in Bengal traditionally sell their boro (winter) crop before Durga Puja in October to meet festival expenses and to ensure the cost of harvesting the kharif crop. This money is now useless, officials said.
“Most farmers in rural Bengal have accounts in small cooperative banks. After the demonetisation announcement, many withdrew whatever little money they had and as a result these cooperative banks have almost no liquid currency,” said a senior official.
“If farmers cannot harvest their paddy, they won’t be able to prepare their fields to sow potatoes. The sowing of potatoes must be completed by mid-December to ensure that there is healthy production,” added an official of Bardhaman district administration.