“At times, I feel like committing suicide but then the faces of my children flash before my eyes. On one hand, private maize traders have opened hundreds of godowns to stock maize after purchasing it at low price from us and on the other, the government is not ensuring sale at MSP (Minimum Support Price),” said Vinod Kumar Jaiswal, a farmer from Alauli in Bihar’s Khagaria district.
“I had taken a loan of Rs 1.75 lakh from a money lender at three per cent interest rate. I had hoped a good crop would help me pay back the loan. But I sold 25 quintal at Rs 1,100 per quintal to meet daily needs and have another 25 quintals stored in the hope of getting a better price in near future,” he said. He also said he has not been able to pay his son Muskan’s school fee of Rs 12,000.
Jaiswal is not alone. Several farmers across Khagaria, Saharsa and Begusarai, three of the 18 north Bihar districts that account for 40 per cent of national maize production, have similar accounts to share.
One says he has mortgaged his wife’s ornaments to arrange money for her treatment, others say they cannot pay school and college fees of their children as they have not been able to sell their crop.
Some farmers are stocking up in the hope of getting better prices later. Others who have no option but to sell the crop for their daily needs are selling it at Rs 1,050-Rs 1,150 per quintal, even below the farmers’ cost of Rs 1,213. The MSP this year is Rs 1,850 per quintal.
Last year, the farmers sold maize at Rs 1,900 to Rs 2,400 per quintal and the MSP was Rs 1,760. After getting good prices, farmers in the region increased maize cultivation this year over wheat and vegetables, hoping it would help them pay off loans and plan for the future.
This year, Bihar produced 60 lakh MMT maize as compared to 40 lakh MMT last year.
Dinesh Singh, a farmer from Sonbarsa in Saharsa, said, “I sold 32 quintals at Rs 1,100 per quintal to meet the basic needs of my family. I was appalled to see about 100 godowns in Saharsa alone where traders from Haryana, UP, Nepal and West Bengal and some local people are storing maize. They are not giving us good prices, saying the price is low because of the Covid-19 crisis. Why can’t the government ensure that farmers at least get the MSP rate?”
Dinesh said he had failed to pay his son’s engineering college fee of Rs 80,000 and his son Amit Anand had recently returned from Delhi because he had no money to send him.
Saharsa farmers Ranjeet Jha and Rajkumar Poddar have produced 400 quintals and 500 quintals of maize, respectively, but have been able to sell only 25 per cent of their stocks.
Overall, farmers of Bihar have so far sold less than 40 per cent of the produce this year as compared to last year’s sale of about 80 per cent of produce till around this time.
The dealers cited their own reasons.
Amar Kothari, a dealer with Kanhaiya Trading Company in Khagaria, said, “We understand the farmers’ concerns, but we are not getting enough orders from large maize traders in UP, Haryana, West Bengal and Odisha where they need maize for poultry and animal feed. No transportation in the lockdown and poor demand now are factors behind the low price and the distress sale.”.
Bihar Kisan Manch president Dhirendra Singh Tuddu said, “We want the Centre to bring a law ensuring no buyer can offer less than MSP to farmers. We are surprised why the Centre cannot purchase maize and why the Primary Agriculture Society of Bihar can purchase wheat and rice but not maize, which is the backbone of north Bihar’s economy?”
Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan told The Indian Express, “We have often discussed if we can add distribution of 1 kg maize under PDS. Several states, including maize-growing ones, should discuss and see if they can help us procure maize.We are aware of the distress sale and how farmers are not getting MSP this year. We are taking this up with the Union Agriculture Minister and can take up the matter with the Prime Minister. Since I deal with distribution, any policy decision on maize is the prerogative of the cabinet and the PM.”
Bihar Agriculture Minister Prem Kumar said, “We are aware of the distress sale. We have brought it to the Centre’s attention.”
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