Maharashtra: Farmers wait for government funds to build scientific warehouses

Maharashtra is responsible for 25-30 per cent of the total onion production in the country and 80-85 per cent of its exports. In this, Nashik contributes at least 50 per cent of the state’s onion output.

Written by ZEESHAN SHAIKH | Mumbai | Published:November 5, 2016 3:06 am

Onions are rotting in warehouses across Maharashtra because of unscientific storage spaces and to avoid risking this, many farmers are dumping their produce wholesale in the market, causing price fluctuations. Despite this, for seven months now, the district agriculture office at Nashik has not accepted applications from onion farmers who want to avail government subsidy to build scientific storage units for their produce. Also, at least 2,100 farmers from Nashik who had applied for money under the subsidy scheme in 2015-16 have still not received it. And yet, the state government has earmarked Rs 5 crore under the scheme for 2016-17. The problem: the state has stipulated that these funds are to be disbursed only to new applicants, and the Nashik office has been told it should not accept any new applications until all earlier applicants receive their funds. A proposal to disburse the funds for this year to the 2,100 applicants from last year has not yet received a response.

Maharashtra is responsible for 25-30 per cent of the total onion production in the country and 80-85 per cent of its exports. In this, Nashik contributes at least 50 per cent of the state’s onion output.

The problem of rotting onions, and price fluctuations, is caused due to the lack of proper storage facilities available to farmers. Those which are available are unscientific and end up causing harm to the stored crop. In such spaces, the onion crop undergoes physiological loss in weight, rotting and sprouting.

Thus, many farmers dump their entire harvest in the market, causing a glut. This causes wide price fluctuations creating unrest among consumers as well as farmers. As a solution, the Maharashtra State Agricultural Marketing Board had formulated a subsidy scheme for scientific onion storage. Under this scheme, at least 25 per cent of the construction cost of a scientific storage unit with capacity between 5-50 metric tonnes would be borne by the state government. The idea is that this would encourage farmers in setting up scientific onion storage systems, minimize storage losses and quality deterioration of the produce and help farmers fetch better prices.

Last year in Nashik district, a total of 4,307 farmers had applied to get support under the scheme. Of these, 2,264 applicants were given help from the available funds creating 49,500 metric tonnes of scientific storage space. However, 2,100 applicants could not get the money due to lack of funds. The district agriculture office was told that until the funds are not disbursed for the 2,100 applicants, no new applications should be accepted by their office.

The state government has earmarked Rs 5 crore under the scheme for 2016-17. It has stipulated that the money should be disbursed only to new applicants. District level officials said they have approached the state government to allow the funds to be given to the 2,100 applicants. “We have moved a proposal seeking distribution of this year’s funds to last year’s applicants who have not received funds. However, we are yet to receive a response,” said a district-level agriculture officer.

Farmers say they have been left in the lurch by the authorities. “We are asked to upgrade the way we undertake agriculture and when we do it, the government delays in helping out the farmers. If this is the way we look at this sector, I am afraid not many people will be interested in pursuing this profession in the long run,” said Nilesh Patil, an onion farmer from Dindori.