Bumper Harvest: Smile’s back on Madhya Pradesh’s farmershttps://indianexpress.com/article/business/business-others/bumper-harvest-smiles-back-on-madhya-pradeshs-farmers-4629729/

Bumper Harvest: Smile’s back on Madhya Pradesh’s farmers

A good, even if not record, wheat crop along with improved prices brings cheer after two not-so-good years.

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Wheat farmer Mangilal Pichhola at his field in Narana village of Madhya Pradesh’s Dewas district. Source: Milind Ghatwai

Manohar Singh Sendhav cannot offhand recall the number of trips he has made to the Dewas mandi or to the shining steel silo at Durgapur, some 10 km away.

Undaunted by the searing noon heat, this farmer from Chandakhedi village in Dewas district’s Sonkatch taluka watches his tractor driver getting the unloaded wheat weighed at the silo, whose four bins together can store 50,000 tonnes of grain. “The weather’s been good this time, with no frost, unseasonal rains or hailstorm,” he says, making a gesture of gratitude towards the skies.

With his 100-bigha (20 hectares; five bigha make a hectare) holding, the Class XII-pass Sendhav is a relatively big cultivator. He is happy to have harvested 10 quintals per bigha (five tonnes/hectare) on an average, more than the 7-8 quintals during the last couple of years.

Sendhav does not divulge how much of his 1,000-odd quintals he has sold so far, both to private traders at the mandi and to the government at the silo designed, built and operated by Adani Agri Logistics Ltd.

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“I’m a Congress worker, but will admit that things have really improved for farmers under the present (BJP) regime,” notes Sendhav, who can afford to play the market, given the backstop option he has of selling to state agencies at the minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 1,625 per quintal in case the mandi rates aren’t good enough. Sendhav is also happy selling at the silo — Madhya Pradesh (MP) has eight such depots of similar capacity, including six run by Adani Agri — where the entire offloading, weighing and handling of grain is automated. It dispenses with the need for paying porters, spending nights outside mandis during peak procurement time, or offering speed money to officials.

“Once the farmer enters the silo premises, the whole process takes less than half-an-hour. As a result, many of them make multiple trips in a day. And, since the silo works round the clock, there are no queues, too,” claims Manish Shukla, terminal manager at the Durgapur silo that started functioning in 2015.

But unlike Sendhav, Mangilal Pichhola is a picture of dejection. “My crop hasn’t been too good, though I have heard that farmers in general have reaped a bumper harvest this year,” complains the 72-year-old, resting on a cot next to his 12-bigha field in Narana, a village about 16 km from Dewas. Out of his 55 quintals of wheat — working out to an average yield of just 2.3 tonnes per hectare — Pichhola has already sold 30 quintals in the mandi for Rs 1,700 and the balance 25 quintals at the MSP of Rs 1,625/quintal. “I have neither the storage nor holding capacity to wait for prices to go up further,” he adds.

Govind Parmar of Bairagarh village in Dewas tehsil has even less land, at 5.5 bigha. Yet, he is prepared to wait for a few weeks before disposing of his 40 quintals produce. “If mandi prices don’t go up, I will sell to the government. Of course, the rates, instead of rising, could actually fall to Rs 1,500 per quintal or so,” he points out.

Sendhav, Pichhola and Parmar operate at different scales and different expectations, but all three are agreed that this year’s wheat crop is the best in at least two years. The MP government goes a further step. The 2016-17 crop now being marketed, according to it, is the best ever, with production estimated at 21.2 million tonnes (mt) and 8.5 mt out of this to be procured by state agencies. But as on April 25, government procurement stood at only 4.38 mt, as against 3.44 mt purchased during this time in the last marketing season (which, for MP, starts from mid-March). At the same time, cumulative market arrivals, at 6.05 mt, have been significantly more than 3.86 mt during this period of 2016.

“We will continue to buy till May 15 and, if necessary, extend the date,” informs Rajesh Rajaura, principal secretary, department of farmer welfare and agriculture development, MP government. He believes that procurement, even it might not meet the original target of 8.5 mt (that level was last seen for the 2011-12 crop), could still cross 6.5 mt. “Why should we be unhappy if the procurement target is not met? We would, on the contrary, be happy because it means farmers have got more than the MSP.”

Meanwhile, Hitesh Bajpai, chairman of the MP State Civil Supplies Corporation and former BJP spokesperson, maintains that the 8.5 mt procurement target will be met, as “the pace of purchases hasn’t slowed down and threshers are still at work in many places”. Last year, only 3.99 mt of wheat got procured from MP, though the state claims to have produced 18.41 mt — which many in the trade have questioned (In 2011-12, MP’s wheat crop was pegged at just 14.54 mt, despite an all-time-high procurement of 8.49 mt).

This time, there is unanimity even within the trade that the state has had a bumper, even if not record, crop. “The arrivals are clearly much more than last year. The overall mood is also upbeat, especially so after the sannatta (silence) that was visible when notebandi (demonetisation) happened,” sums up Mukesh Mehta, a leading trader at the Barotha mandi, nearly 25 km from Dewas town.

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While farmers are increasingly taking to selling at silos, they haven’t, however, given up on mandis or selling to private traders. “Small farmers prefer the mandi because they get paid immediately in cash. This is unlike in the procurement centres or silos, where money is transferred to their bank accounts only after about a week,” notes Jitendra Nagar, another trader at Barotha.