At the end of the third week of April, cotton procurement in the states paints a dismal picture even as the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) and its sub-agent Maharashtra State Cooperative Cotton Federation (MSCCF) make concerted attempts to resume their centres amid coronavirus-induced lockdown.
Till March 22, the CCI and MSCCF together procured cotton — CCI has procured 90 lakh quintal and MSCCF 54 lakh quintal — from 1.66 lakh farmers, data obtained from cooperative department states. The total amount paid to farmers for the cash crop was Rs 2,340 crore, it stated.
However, the nationwide lockdown, since March 24, has brought the process to a grinding halt. As a result, a majority of the 42 lakh farmers engaged on cotton cultivation in the state had to resign to an uncertain period of wait.
“The lockdown has badly crippled the procurement process. The procurement centres are trying to resume the operations. But there is a poor response due to lack of workers and COVID-19 induced restrictions,” NCP leader and Maharashtra Cooperative Minister Balasaheb Patil said.
The Centre and state governments have, in its revised guidelines for the lockdown period, exempted agriculture and allied activities. The CCI has also issued written instructions to the state government to continue cotton procurement by strictly maintaining social-distancing norms and restricting 30 to 40 farmers per day at such centres.
Maharashtra cultivates cotton on 44 lakh hectares and is its second-largest grower in the country. The cash crop is procured from farmers through centres set up by the CCI and MSCCF.
Sources in the cooperative department revealed the process of sale and disbursement of money to farmers is completed by March-end or first week of April. However, in the wake of the lockdown, farmers were forced to stock their cotton at homes or at nearby AMPC markets.
The dependence of farmers on the CCI and the MSCCF stems from the missing private players, who are financially hit due to the lockdown. Those operating, have lowered the procurement rates to as low at Rs 3,000 per quintal, thus driving farmers to distress sale.
Whereas, the CCI and the MSCCF buy cotton from farmers at a Minimum Support Price (MSP) ranging between Rs 4,500 and Rs 5,050 per quintal depending on the grade of the cash crop. The cotton of the highest grade, which stands the scrutiny of CCI and MSCCF as per their guidelines, fetch farmers Rs 5,050 per quintal.
However, higher moister and poorer quality crop fetches around Rs 4,500 per quintal.
According to Patil, 24 procurement centres have been started in nine districts of Vidarbha and Marathwada. However, he conceded that restriction on mobility within a district or villages have hampered the process at some places.
Sanjay Pawar, Yavatmal-based farmers’ activist said, “Cotton purchase has come to a halt. The coronavirus pandemic coupled with lack of logistical support has added to the farmers’ hardships.”
Another concern raised by the cooperative department is the increased financial burden on the state government as farmers expect the CCI and the MSCCF to buy their stock at MSP to minimise their financial loss. “Inadequate cotton centres are pushing the small and marginal farmers to private players, who are taking advantage of their vulnerability and paying them peanuts. The farmers, who cannot withstand the delays and wants money, will be forced to sell cotton at a much lower price than Rs 3,000 per quintal, Now, it is the government’s responsibility to ensure maximum cotton centres under CCI and MSCCF resume work in full swing,” said Kishore Tiwari, chairman of Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swavlambhan Yojna.
Tiwari has also threatened to go on a fast from Monday if farmers’ plight is not addressed immediately.