Problem of plenty: TN farmers perturbed despite bountiful paddy crop
As officials at DPCs are not ready to procure paddy, citing lack of sacks, farmers have kept their produces in the verandas. Photo: The Federal

Problem of plenty: TN farmers perturbed despite bountiful paddy crop

Storage spaces have not increased in tandem with surge in yield; poor drying facilities and skewed procurement model add to their losses

The heavy rainfall in Tamil Nadu between July and October this year has led to bountiful paddy cultivation. As on September 30 of the just concluded 2020-21 kharif marketing season, 44.9 lakh tonnes of paddy were procured by the Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation (TNCSC) — 12.5 lakh higher than last year’s procurement.

The kharif marketing season 2021-22 began on October 1, and this will end on September 30 next year. As on date, 752 direct procurement centres (DPCs) are operating in the State.

But it appears the farmers are not happy. This is because most of the DPCs do not have proper storage facilities and hence the paddy sacks are left in the open. So, whenever there is rain, the sacks get drenched and the paddy starts sprouting.

This has been rather routine over the past few years. But, since the acreage of paddy cultivation has been increased, the lack of a parallel increase in storage facilities has left the farmers in a fix. This is the only crop in the State which has an assured minimum support price (MSP) and hence the number of farmers cultivating paddy is on the rise.

Storage-related losses

According to New Delhi-based National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, storage is a major cause of post-harvest losses for all kinds of food crops in India. As of June 2020, about 15% of post-harvest losses were due to storage, as estimated by the Food Corporation of India (FCI). Another study, by Ludhiana-based Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology, said that between 2012 and 2013, about 5.53% of paddy was wasted due to lack of proper storage.

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Direct data on how much paddy has been wasted in Tamil Nadu during the said storage period is not available. Yet, a 2013 study carried out by the economics department of the University of Madras in Tiruvarur and Villupuram districts showed that 32% of the respondents in Tiruvarur and 87% in Villupuram stored the paddy in open spaces.

“The State government claims that it has opened many DPCs. But, in reality, in most of the places, the DPCs have just offices and not godowns. That is the reason, in many places we are witnessing rice sacks getting drenched in the rains,” said R Gopinath, a development economist with the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai.

Agreeing with Gopinath, PR Pandian, General Secretary at Thanjavur-based Tamil Nadu Cauvery Farmers Association, said that though the State increased rice production during the pandemic, thanks to good rainfall, the storage facilities have not kept pace, and hence more and more paddy is getting wasted.

Call for early procurement

In August and September, the Southwest monsoon rains were bountiful, helping the paddy crops grow. But the harvest is going to go on during the Northeast monsoon, which started on October 25, said Pandian.

“Within the first week of October the harvest should have been completed. But this year, the harvest is still going on. The reason is, on June 12 this year, the Cauvery water from Mettur dam was released. However, the full flow of water reached the tail-end of the river only in July, following heavy rains. The Kuruvai season of paddy cultivation, therefore, started late,” he added. Kuruvai crops (predominantly paddy), grown in the TN delta region, are highly dependent on the abundance of water from the Cauvery.

Only during torrid weather, the moisture level in the paddy is 13-14%. For procurement, the TNCSC has capped the moisture level in paddy at 17%. In summer, the paddy gets drained in the sunlight, and can have a moisture level of 17% or lower. But now, due to the rains, there is no place to dry the crop, so the moisture level often goes up to 22%.

Centre-State equations

“The Union government procures paddy in the rabi and kharif seasons. But the seasons don’t suit South India. In Tamil Nadu, we have Kuruvai and Samba (a paddy season that falls in July-August), which are the exact opposite of the Union government’s base seasons. For them, the kharif season (which normally runs from June to October) is considered the summer crop. Whereas it is winter for us. If they start to procure the paddy from October, naturally, the moisture level in the paddy will be high,” observed Pandian.

While at the national level, paddy is procured from the States through the FCI, at the State level, as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, it is carried out by the TNCSC. So, Tamil Nadu has to act according to the FCI and that is unacceptable, he asserted.

“We have been asking the Union government since September that it should procure the paddy a little earlier. But, how much ever we push, it starts procuring paddy only from November. Now, due to the strained relations between the State and Union governments, the procurement is further delayed,” said Pandian.

However, until last year, since the (then ruling) AIADMK and the BJP walked hand-in-hand, just by oral instruction the FCI started procuring the paddy immediately after harvest, he recalled.

Now the State government has also introduced paddy procurement online. It is claimed that it can procure about 1,000 sacks in a day via the online mode. But this target can be achieved by 6 pm only if they open the DPCs at 8 am. In reality, though, the DPCs open only at around 11 am.

“If there is any lag in the pickup of the first day procurement by lorries, the procurement on the second day gets delayed. When they are not stored properly, they get damaged,” Pandian rued.

Need for portable dryers

Arupathy P Kalyanam, General Secretary, Federation of Cauvery Delta Farmers Association, said the Tamil Nadu government should provide tractor-operated portable paddy dryers to each DPC, so that the moisture level can be brought down drastically.

“In Punjab, there are portable dryers like Matharu (a brand of mobile grains dryer). Based on that model we can develop a similar one. It will help farmers dry two tonnes of paddy grains in three hours,” said Kalyanam. “If we have one dryer at each DPCs, it can be rented out to the farmers, so that they can take the dryer to their own place and dry the paddy. Solar dryers cannot be useful, since there is no sunlight on rainy days. The agricultural engineering department must take an initiative towards this.”

In States like Punjab, there are eight government agencies involved in paddy procurement. But in Tamil Nadu, the TNCSC is the sole agency involved in this process. The government can divide the State into four zones and appoint other agencies for procurement, said Kalyanam.

“Besides the delta region, paddy is also grown in Tiruvannamalai, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur. When there are no sufficient DPCs in those areas, the intermediaries take the paddy at a flat rate and sell it in the delta region. Since most of the farmers — who have about 5 acres of land — have no means to transport the paddy, they depend on the intermediaries,” he pointed out.

Steps to prevent dumping

In order to keep the intermediaries at bay, the government should think of launching mobile procurement centres, so that the paddy is procured directly from the place of the farmers, stressed Kalyanam. “Having more and more DPCs will prevent the dumping of the paddy sacks at one place. However, only having a proper storage facility can prevent wastage of paddy,” he added.

He further said that due to erratic weather conditions, the farmers witness unexpected rains frequently. To address these problems, the Union government should advance the paddy procurement to August, instead of October, he said.

“But the Union government says that the State should represent the farmers on this issue. We are trying to bring this matter to the attention of the State government. However, nothing has been done,” Kalyanam said.

R Murugesan, Chief Engineer, State Agriculture Engineering Department, said the Department has provided two mobile dryers — one each in Thanjavur and Nagapattinam. “Through these dryers, two tonnes of paddy can be dried. However, just two dryers cannot meet the demand. The government is in the process of purchasing more dryers and the Agriculture Marketing Department has also been roped in,” he said.

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