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Farmers with record output in frantic search for market
- Govt reels off agro-data but lack of buyers sets off alarm

Patna, Jan. 17: Chief minister Nitish Kumar dreams of one vegetable item from Bihar on the plate of every Indian but farmers are grappling with harsh reality.

Potato farmer Nitish Kumar of Nalanda, who created a record in production, was forced to sell off his produce at a piffling Rs 5 per kg last year when the cost of production was Rs 215 per mann (40kg). Nitish the farmer, who incidentally hails from the district of his more illustrious namesake, had produced 72.9 tonnes of potato per hectare.

The distress sale, farm experts, said was owing to the fact that the market for agriculture produce has shrunk.

Agriculture minister Narendra Singh admitted as much today. “We have to find a market for the farmers. The farmers should get adequate price for their produce — at least a profit of 50 per cent over their cost price,” he said.

Narendra blamed the Food Corporation of India for not purchasing foodgrain from farmers and asserted that the state needed help from the Centre in irrigation projects, energy and increasing storage capacity.

This year, farmers are grumbling that primary agriculture co-operatives (PACs) are not procuring their produce. “It is being rejected on the ground that the paddy has moisture,” said a farmer of Paliganj, located on the outskirts of Patna.

Bihar got a prize of Rs 1 crore from President Pranab Mukherjee on November 15 for increasing its productivity of paddy by 35 per cent. Nalanda farmer Sumat Kumar had produced 224 quintals of rice per hectare in 2011-12 beating the world record of 190 quintals a hectare in China. The production of foodgrain in the same year was 1.21 crore metric tonnes, a rise of 35 per cent.

Farmers fear that they, like Nalanda’s potato-grower Nitish, too might have to go for distress sale. According to the last review made by food and consumer affairs minister Shyam Rajak, it was found that only 3.5 per cent of the target set for the procurement of paddy by the PACs had been achieved. “I have directed the officials to accomplish at least 30 per cent of the target by the end of January,” Rajak said. He added that this year, the PACs will procure 30 lakh metric tonnes of paddy from the farmers. “The procurement process will last till April. Funds, bags for storing the grain and measurement machines have already been sent to PACs,” the minister said.

The state first devised the agriculture roadmap in 2008. “When I took over the agriculture portfolio in 2005, the total budget was just Rs 28 crore. Today the department’s annual budget exceeds Rs 3,000 crore,” Narendra Singh said, stressing that distribution of seeds, technology and bio-fertilisers to farmers were paying dividends. “The target for 2017 is 2.34 crore metric tonnes,” he informed.

Statistics issued by the agriculture department show that the production of rice in 2008-9 was 57.71 lakh tonnes. In 2011-12 rice production shot up to 85.05 lakh tonnes — an increase of 51 per cent. Similarly production of wheat increased from 47.74 lakh metric tonnes to 60.02 metric lakh tonnes in 2011-12, a rise of 19 per cent. The state has already become the highest producer of honey and is aiming to replicate its success in pulse, fruits, vegetables and other allied sectors in the next three to four years, the department said.

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, during his recent lecture in Patna, had pointed out how farming, which once contributed 70 per cent to US’s economy, found profits shrinking though its productivity increased. So much so that at one stage it became non-viable and the US had to shift from agriculture to industry to drive its economy. Stiglitz, who was impressed by farming undertaken in a village in Nalanda, issued a similar warning to Bihar.

“Until the chief minister is able to ensure a market and an adequate return for the farmers, his dream of an item from Bihar on every Indian’s menu may become a nightmare,” said an agriculture expert.