New Delhi: Less than 1% of the wheat produced in Bihar was procured by the Central and state government agencies in the rabi marketing season of 2020-21, data obtained by The Wire through the Right to Information Act (RTI) show.
Farmers in the state were projected to produce 61 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of wheat this year, but the government has procured only 5,000 tonnes, or 0.081% of total estimated production.
That is also less than 1% – or 0.71% to be precise – of the Bihar government’s target to procure 7 lakh tonnes of wheat. In fact, chief minister Nitish Kumar had increased the target from the initially set 2 lakh tonnes citing the coronavirus pandemic and the difficulties being faced by farmers in selling their produce.
However, as per the data now made available by the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution (MCAFPD), the government managed to procure wheat from only 1,002 farmers in Bihar.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting difficulties faced by farmers in selling their produce, as acknowledged by Nitish, this season Bihar has procured even less wheat than it did in the last two years.
In 2018-19 for instance, 17,504 tonnes were procured from farmers in Bihar and in 2017-18, 20,000 tonnes were procured. These quantities too are less than 1% of the total wheat produced in Bihar, but they are higher than the quantity procured this year.
In 2019-20, government agencies procured even less, at 2,815 tonnes, than they did this year.
As The Wire has reported in the past, wheat procurement in Bihar has been less than ideal for several years. “During the last five or six years, wheat procurement in Bihar has been almost nil. We fulfil 80% of the state’s requirement of food grains by purchasing from outside,” Bihar FCI general manager, Sandeep Kumar Pandey told us in April this year.
A key factor has been the decline in the number of procurement centres in the state, which stood at around 9,000 in 2015-16 but dropped to 1,619 in 2019-20. As a result of the lower number of procurement centres, only a very small fraction of the total farmers in the state are able to sell their crop at the minimum support prices (MSP) announced by the Centre.
“We can’t rely on government procurement in Bihar. There are private flour mills and biscuit manufacturers who normally buy our produce. But this year, even that was not possible because of the lockdown. So, we had to sell at rates as low as half of the MSP,” said Rajesh Yadav, a farmer who grows wheat in Madhubani district of Bihar.
APMCs abolished and what the future could hold for the country
Another factor to note is that Bihar had abolished the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act (APMC) way back in 2006 and perhaps provides an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what the future could hold for the country, as the Centre has recently introduced an ordinance to override state APMC Acts, which has caused a major stir with farmers opposing the move.
Writing for The Hindu Business Line in May this year, food policy expert Devinder Sharma explained how the repeal of the APMC Act in Bihar has not benefited farmers.
“Take the case of Bihar, which had revoked the APMC Act in 2006. The idea was to attract private sector investments in marketing infrastructure where efficient markets were expected to provide for better price discovery. Unfortunately, nothing like that happened,” Sharma wrote.
Former agriculture secretary Siraj Hussain says that the state government has not done enough to ensure that farmers are able to sell their produce at MSP. “The state government needs to do much more to obtain the benefit of MSP for its farmers than what it has done so far,” he said.
“While several eastern states have geared up their procurement machinery, Bihar has unfortunately not been able to develop its cooperatives which are primarily responsible for procurement in the state. Madhya Pradesh has been very successful in organising its procurement as well as the PDS [public distribution system]. Similarly, Odisha and Chhattisgarh have been able to provide the benefit of MSP to their farmers. In Bihar, it is not only paddy and wheat farmers who have suffered but maize growers have suffered even more this year,” Hussain said.
As Hussain mentioned, a success story this year has been Madhya Pradesh, which procured more wheat than Punjab – which since the green revolution, has been considered India’s proverbial food bowl.
While Punjab procured 127 lakh metric tonnes of wheat, Madhya Pradesh procured 129 lakh metric tonnes.
India’s largest producer of wheat, Uttar Pradesh, has once again faltered and procured only about 10% of its produce this year. In all, the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab account for 87% of the total procurement of wheat in the country in 2020-21.