The West Bengal government’s paddy procurement reached an all-time high this year as the lockdown enforced in wake of the COVID-19 outbreak kept the middlemen at bay and also forced the cash-strapped farmers into distress sale.
The state’s food and supplies department has so far procured 48.77 lakh tons of paddy from over 13.76 lakh farmers at ₹1,835 per quintal, surpassing this year’s target of procuring 46 lakh tons.
The earlier highest procurement was in 2016, when the state government procured over 39.86 lakh tons of paddy. Last year, the government had procured only 34 lakh tons.
For the record procurement, the state’s Food and Supplies Minister Jyotipriya Mallick admitted the catalyst role played by COVID-19. He said that the economic condition of a large number of farmers had been so crippled by the lockdown that they were forced into distress sale, increasing the quantity of paddy sold by individual farmers.
Department sources said that the individual farmers sold 15 to 20 per cent more paddy this year. This, the minister believes, is because the farmers did not stock extra paddy this time for future sale or use as they are in need of immediate cash.
“No doubt we provide free ration to all. But they (farmers) need cash to buy other essentials. Hence, we think they are now selling as much paddy as possible,” Mallick said.
Previously, farmers used to stock a portion of the harvest to sell it in the open market during the lean season when it fetched higher price. Another possible reason the minister cited for the increase in procurement is that middlemen by and large could not reach the farmers in many villages to buy paddy due to the lockdown.
Procurement of paddy for the Rabi marketing season (2020-21) started from May 1. In the initial days, the procurement was less as the farmers were facing problems in arranging vehicles to transport their produce to the procurement centres or to the ‘Krishak Bazaars’ organised by the state government for selling paddy.
To overcome these difficulties, a mobile app named ‘Annadatri’ was launched on May 29. Those interested in selling their paddy could inform the department through this app. The department then, through self-help groups, would arrange for the collection of the produce. This is the first time that the government is going for door-to-door collection using the app.
The Food Corporation of India was supposed to procure six lakh tons of paddy from the state, but so far, it has taken only 50,000 tons.