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Paddy target worry in poll season

Calcutta, March 11: The Mamata Banerjee government has missed the target of bringing 14 lakh hectares under boro (winter) cultivation, which will result in a demand-supply mismatch of rice by over 3 lakh tonnes, sources in the agriculture department said.

A recent report compiled by the agriculture department has revealed that 12.5 lakh hectares could be brought under cultivation in the boro season, which ended on February 28.

As monsoon arrived late last year and caused floods in some districts, paddy production in the kharif season suffered. The government had been depending heavily on the boro crop to meet the annual consumption requirement of the state, projected to be around 146 lakh tonnes in 2013-14.

According to the agriculture department’s estimate, the state could produce 105 lakh tonnes of rice in the kharif season, which was 5 lakh tonnes less than the target. In the boro season, Bengal had set a target of producing 42 lakh tonnes of rice.

“As we could bring 12.5 lakh hectares under cultivation in the boro season, the state’s overall production was 143 lakh tonnes, a shortfall of 3 lakh tonnes,” an official said.

Although such a shortfall is not a major blow as rice can be bought from other states, it could be a cause of concern for Trinamul ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Electoral success in Bengal is largely dependent on farmers as more than 65 per cent of the state’s 9.11 crore population directly or indirectly depend on agriculture, experts said. “Lower sowing in the boro season means the farmers have failed to produce, which shows that they are not solvent enough to invest in agriculture,” a minister in the Mamata cabinet said.

Senior state government officials linked the problem to poor paddy procurement by the administration. Farmers reinvest in the boro season only if they get proper price for their kharif produce.

“The farmers don’t have surplus money to invest in the boro crop as the Bengal government could not give a bonus over and above the minimum support price for paddy, which is fixed by the Centre,” another official said.

Farmers don’t have additional cash for investment if the bonus is not given as the cost of production and the minimum support price of Rs 1,310 a quintal are almost the same, many cultivators said.

The government could procure only 5.5 lakh tonnes in the kharif season, against the target of 22 lakh tonnes.

Food minister Jyotipriya Mullick said the target could not be fulfilled because the farmers “did not show interest” in selling their produce to the government as they got a price in local markets similar to the minimum support price.

Farmers in Burdwan, Hooghly and Birbhum said they did not sell their produce to the government as they got a better price from local traders.

“The local traders offered us Rs 1,320 a quintal, Rs 10 more than what the government gives us,” said Madhab Biswas, a farmer in Birbhum’s Mayureswar. He, however, said the price offered by the local traders was not good enough to recover the amount he had invested in the kharif season.

Minister Mullick said Bengal’s financial condition did not allow the government to offer a bonus.