Though the state is looking at bumper crop this season, but there are problems in harvesting for lack of labour, since most labourers are engaged in executing MGNREGA schemes.
West Bengal will procure 22 lakh tonne paddy from May 1 onwards, which will ease supply of rice in the market that was constrained in the wake of lockdown due to Covid-19. The procurement would be a mix of rabi (boro) and kharif (amon) at a minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 1,855 per quintal since the procurement process of paddy harvested during the kharif season had to be stopped due to the lock down.
The state announced procuring 52 lakh tonne of paddy this year out of which 30 lakh tonne has already been procured. The government will start procuring the rest 22 lakh tonne from first week of May and that will shortly ease pressures from the market, Jyotipriya Mallick, West Bengal’s minister for food and supplies told FE.
West Bengal, on an average, produces 15 million tonne of rice annually, more than 15% of the country’s total production. There has been a short supply in the lockdown period and prices escalated by an average Rs 3-4 per kg. Mallick maintained it was due to the sudden stop in procurement, both by the government and rice mill owners, that there was a short supply for a while.
There are more than 1,000 rice mills in West Bengal and the government procurement happens through about 250 rice mills. The rest of the mills procures paddy directly from the farmers and sell it in open market.
Mill owners, who procure for themselves, generally wait for the government indent to get over after which they buy paddy at a much lower rate than the MSP. The government procurement is used to meet the government sponsored schemes like the mid day meal, the integrated child development programme, ration for tea garden workers, ration for cyclone Aila affected areas and others. The open market prices are much higher since a chunk of the rice available in the market gets exported mostly to Bangladesh via the informal route and a part is also sold to other states. Formal exports of rice from West Bengal is also dwindling.
Some rice mill owners make procurement on paper only and the MSP is not given to the farmers. They buy paddy from the open market at a much lower rate and sell it to the government and gets the higher government notified price. This creates a market imbalance to which the government should look into, a section of rice mill owners alleged.
Pradip Kumar Majumdar, chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s agricultural advisor had earlier said marketing West Bengal’s produce has become a problem since the Centre, through the Food Corporation of India (FCI), has not been procuring a single tonne of rice from the state for more than a year.
” We have no other option but to ask the farmers to diversify their crop and to some extend it is happening,” Majumdar said.
Of the 15 million tonne that West Bengal produces, 30% is boro or the rabi yield. Though the state is looking at bumper crop this season, but there are problems in harvesting for lack of labour, since most labourers are engaged in executing MGNREGA schemes. West Bengal is considering if harvesting can be brought under the MGNREGA to get adequate labour for harvesting the boro crop, West Bengal agriculture minister Ashish Banerjee said.