It has taken a long time coming but basmati production in Madhya Pradesh,a state known for its wheat and soybean,is finally showing an upward trend.
From a few thousand acres in 2006,the area under basmati cultivation has leapfrogged to more than 2 lakh acres in 2012,a quantum jump that has come mainly from private intervention and partly the failure of the soybean crop.
If the interest shown by private players is any indication,the aromatic grain is here to stay. At least three major companies have set up processing plants in Mandideep near Bhopal and another major player is set to begin commercial production in October.
Given that the basmati crop requires much more attention and inputs than soybean,the MP farmers had largely kept away from it despite the good returns it promises.
Hundreds of farmers in Hoshangabad belt have embraced the new crop and their counterparts in 14 other districts have followed suit. Incidentally,this was the region that began the shift towards soybean crop nearly three decades ago.
A few years ago,LT Foods Limited,the company behind the well-known Daawat brand,began collaborating with the state’s agriculture department to increase awareness about basmati cultivation.
Qualified personnel trained by the company moved from one village to another in Raisen,Hoshangabad,Sehore,Vidisha,Betul,Narsinghpur,Jabalpur and Gwalior districts conducting sessions on technical know-how and good quality seed among other things.
In 2007 alone,it purchased about 15,000 MT basmati rice. More farmers jumped on to the bandwagon seeing that there is an assured market for the valuable crop.
Deputy Director (Agriculture) K C Upadhyay says the basmati crop has found favour with farmers registering a substantial increase over the last few years.
Former managing director of MP State Agro Industries Development Corporation Ltd K K Tiwari,who is now consultant to Daawat Foods,says from a mere 20,000 acres in 2006,the crop was cultivated in 2.31 lakh acres in 2011,and registered a marginal increase this kharif.
The governments estimates are a little conservative at 1.8 lakh acres while there are others who say its lower but admit the increase is still noteworthy. To encourage basmati production,the MP government has amended the legislation that governs agricultural produce marketing yards to exempt paddy used for processing and production of basmati rice from payment of mandi fees.
ASSOCHAM office-bearer and Sanwaria Agro Oils director Anil Agrawal,whose proposed basmati processing plant (200 tonnes per day capacity) will begin commercial production in October,says even if the area under cultivation is 1 lakh acres,its still large enough.
Its not that all the basmati growth has come at the expense of soybean. While waterlogged fields herald good for the rice fields,soybean requires better water drainage management.
Agriculture expert G S Kaushal says the switch is substantial and the production of basmati appears huge because the region was almost virgin for the paddy crop.
Dr Kaushal,who retired as director (agriculture),however,cautions against the private intervention like the one involving Daawat Foods. He says farmers may get good rates in the beginning but they may be left at the mercy of the company once a monopoly is created.
Dr Kaushal points out that farmers from Punjab who have settled in MP after selling their land may have started the trend in basmati cultivation. Hundreds of farmers from the northern state sold their land back home at exorbitant rates and bought land in MP at a fraction of what they got in Punjab.
Rupendra Singh Solanki,a farmer from Bhilakhedi village near Itarsi,says basmati was cultivated in fields that were unfit for soybean cultivation. He fetched Rs 3,400-3,500 per quintal in the first year,something he had never imagined. But his enthusiasm vanished over the last two years when he got less than half that dream rate.
Sunil of Samajwadi Jan Parishad,an NGO active in the Hoshangabad belt,says the farmer always looks for an alternative when he suffers losses. He estimates that not more than 10 to 15 per cent farmers have switched to basmati from soybean in the Hoshangabad belt.
According to him,though the region falls in the command area of Tawa dam,farmers still need an alternative irrigation system because the supply of water is not always assured. Basmati growing farmers need a tubewell which increases the cost of agriculture along with input costs of fertilisers and pesticides.