Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan are starting wheat procurement from April 2 as the crop has matured in these states. Punjab and Haryana will begin purchase of the grains from April 15 and 20, respectively.
Notwithstanding a delayed start due to the outbreak of Covid-19 that forced the Centre to enforce a 21-day lockdown across the country, the Food Corporation of India is hopeful of procuring 35 million tonne of grins this year, against 34.13 million tonne last year, because of a bumper harvest. According to the government estimates, wheat production is estimated at 106.21 million tonne for 2019-20 crop year (July-June), up 2.5% from a year earlier.
Usually, the official procurement starts a few days before April 1 when normal rabi marketing season begins, as the crop arrives early in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. This year also, the plan was to start the purchase from around March 22 in these two states. But the procurement was postponed after the announcement of lockdown, officials said.
Officials in Madhya Pradesh said farmers are not coming to grain mandis because of the fear of corona as well as enforcement at local levels. After the relaxation issued by the Centre last week, farmers can start harvesting the crops and take it to the mandis and procurement centres, officials said. Madhya Pradesh is the third-largest contributor of wheat (6.7 million tonne in 2019-20) to the central pool, after Punjab and Haryana.
“Though we are prepared for the procurement, everything depends on how farmers react as they are also following the government directives on social distancing and not coming out of their homes,” a state government official said from Bhopal. State agriculture department officials have reached out to farmers after the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) issued an advisory on harvesting.
“The disease crisis has coincided with the harvesting season of rabi food crops such as wheat, millets, pulses, oilseeds and other crops. We need to take precautions as we will be engaged in the harvesting of grains, fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs and fish,” ICAR’s director general Trilochan Mohapatra said on March 28. He has advised farmers to take proper sanitisation for using shared or hired machinery for harvesting by adopting simple measures such as washing of hands with soap, alcohol rub and maintaining isolation distance at personal level and proper cleaning of shared machinery.
Uttar Pradesh is likely to start procurement from April 15 after the lockdown, even though the state had announced earlier that the official purchase to start from April 1. Different agencies involved in procurement in the state have written to the food department to postpone the procurement till lockdown is over. The state government has set the same target as last year to procure 5.5 million tonne in 2020-21. Last year, the procurement was 3.8 million tonne even after extending the purchase programme by 10 days from normal two-and-a-half months.
“Unless space is created, wheat procurement may not gather pace this year. The FCI has already informed the state government to create space at local levels for fresh procurement,” an official said.