Guwahati, March 15 (IANS): Farmers of Assam, that recently boasted of having a record rice harvest, are losing interest in paddy cultivation, saying they were facing financial ruin in the absence a minimum support price and adequate procurement centres for their produce.
Rice production is going down as the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has not fixed the price to buy back the farmers' produce, say farmers' representatives. And there are only 11 FCI procurement centres in the whole of Assam, unlike in Punjab and Haryana where there are procurement centres every 8-10 km. Farmers had to trek long distances to sell their rice in these centres, said Saito Basumatary of the People's Rights Forum (PRF).
Middlemen are taking advantage of the situation, he said, as there is no minimum support price (MSP) fixed for rice and other agricultural produces.
"The farmers of the State had to sell their produces at very low price to the middlemen due to lack of MSP," Basumatary told IANS. While a farmer in Assam invests Rs 2,755 in a bigha of land for growing paddy, it yields him only Rs 2,400, he added.
"It is easier for the farmers to buy the BPL or Antordaya rice provided by the government than to growing paddy and face financial loss."
"This is the figure we have received from farmers across the state till last year. This is very alarming as more than 65 percent of Assam's total population is engaged in the agriculture sector," Basumatary said.
The 11 procurement centres in the State are at Hojai, Lanka, Nagaon, Roha, Sarupathar, Golaghat, Titabor, Kharupetia, Dhubri, Narayanpur and Barpeta Road.
A survey by North East Social Trust (NEST) reveals that while the state had produced 4,007,000 tonnes of rice in the 2009-10 financial year, the FCI has procured only 12,146 tonnes through its procurement centres in Assam in that year. The FCI, however, procured around 1,301,485.89 tonnes from other states to be distributed in Assam.
"This is very strange. Why should the FCI procure rice from other states when the state produces enough rice," said Basumatary, adding that the state spends around Rs 3,000 annually as transportation cost for bringing the food grains from outside.
"Corrective measure like fixing of a MSP and setting up of more procurement centres will not only improve the rice production in the state, but also save Rs 3,000 crore for the state exchequer," said Sunil Kaul, the Supreme Court-appointed commissioner on food security.
"Procuring rice from other State is a depressing situation, particularly at a time when the state government has claimed to have produced a record 5.3 million tonnes of rice last year," Kaul told IANS.
Kaul also blamed it on some existing procurement norms of the FCI. "There is a procurement norm that prohibits the FCI to buy paddy which has more than 17 percent humidity content. This deprives the farmers in the northeast as humidity content in this part of the country is about 18 percent."
"This kind of norm is baseless as the paddy procured from outside also has the same humidity level once they were stored in the FCI godowns here. The public representatives in this part of the country must take up these issues and force the government agency to change its norms," he pointed out.