Till last year, Phalguni Kumar Sarkar, a 45-year-old maize farmer from Nabarangpur, had little option but to sell his produce at less than the minimum support price when trucks belonging to traders from Chhattisgarh’s Raipur pulled up at his village. But this January, change came in the way maize was sold in Nabarangpur, the southern Odisha district that is arguably India’s poorest and the focus of a one-year assignment by The Indian Express.
That month, Sarkar and a few other farmers took part, for the first time, in an online auction organised by NCDEX Spot Exchange Ltd (NSPOT), a leading exchange for daily electronic trading of agricultural commodities. The auction was a result of an MoU signed between the state government and NCDEX last December under the World Bank-led Odisha Inclusive Growth Partnership (OIGP) programme.
Today, maize farmers from Nabarangpur’s Raighar and Umerkote blocks, like Sarkar from Hatibeda village, are eagerly waiting for the e-auction to resume in June when the Rabi harvest starts. The district, incidentally, contributes 28 per cent to the total maize production of Odisha — an estimated 6.54 lakh metric tonnes.
“I was apprehensive about taking part in the auction. But it turned out to be a nice experience. For the first time in my life, I sold maize at a price more than MSP. The money was credited directly to my bank account within eight days of the auction. I could have sold more had I produced more,” said Sarkar.
As he waited with about 100 quintals of shelled maize in the Raighar Regulated Market Committee (RMC) godown, Sarkar said, officials assigned him a login ID. Then, despite “terrible” connectivity, he managed to sell his produce at Rs 1,426 per quintal to a bidder. And, the moment his produce was sold online, Sarkar received a confirmation note via an SMS.
At the same time, traders from Raipur had paid other farmers Rs 1,320 per quintal, said Sarkar.
And to think that just a year ago, such an option was beyond the reach of farmers from Nabarangpur. In the 2015 kharif season, farmers said they suffered a bitter experience as the RMCs did not procure the crop due to lack of storage space. Last year, maize was cultivated over 38,000 hectares of land in the district compared to previous year’s 60,000 hectares.
Farmers in the district spend between Rs 11,000-Rs 13,000 an acre for maize, but reap seven-to-ten times the cost “in a good year”. But apart from offering rates far below MSP, the traders from Raipur also deduct money for transportation costs, said Sarkar.
With over Rs 600-crore worth of maize being produced every year in the district, the traders were free to fix their own price, more so since they used to provide loans to farmers to buy expensive hybrid seeds and fertiliser like Urea, DAP and Potash. “They bought all our produce, but their agents forced us to sell at least Rs 100 less than MSP. But yes, they gave us hybrid seeds and fertiliser at a time when we needed,” said Sarkar.
Subarn Gond, a tribal from Lalpara village in Raighar, said he sold maize through the new exchange at Rs 1,370 per quintal when the prevailing local market price was Rs 1,300. Another tribal from Chhatabeda village, Bhikhari Gond, sold 118 quintals at Rs 1,450 a quintal through NCDEX platform.
While 66 maize farmers registered themselves for the e-auction early this year, 12 auctioned over 1,600 quintals with prices ranging between Rs 1,370 and Rs 1,426 a quintal.
Under the OIGP programme, a marketing and infrastructure working group was formed in 2014 to work with agencies such as NCDEX to activate maize contacts in Odisha. The same year, state government formed a maize and poultry task force to enable the formulation of suitable policies and regulations to facilitate private sector investments in maize and poultry sub-sectors.
“The online auction ensures that middlemen are kept out and better price is obtained for farmers. In all the 10 bids in January, we allowed the lifting of the stock from the RMC godown only after the farmers had been paid,” said Nabarangpur district collector Rashmita Panda.
However, maize farmers like Rajmohan Majhi from Chhatabeda village want the new initiative to put in place more quality checks.
“The bidding companies insist on moisture content of 12-14 per cent in the corn and not more than that. I still have 232 quintals unsold. I would be happy if they take the rest at a little less price,” said Nandalal Majhi, a farmer from Raighar, who sold 143 quintals at Rs 1,426 per quintal. “But yes, this month, we expect the process to be smoother with better connectivity. And most of my fears over selling maize are over.”