Punjab’s maize farmers get raw deal from traders, demand govt intervention
The summer maize harvesting in Punjab is underway, but farmers have landed on a sticky wicket, being forced to sell their crop at prices lower than the minimum support price (MSP) announced by the government.
Though the MSP for maize is set at Rs 1,962 per quintal this year, traders purchase dried maize, which meets the procurement specifications, for Rs 1,500-1,550 per quintal. In the case of freshly cut maize, which has a high moisture level, the farmers get just Rs 950-1,100 per quintal.
The miffed farmers like Guriqbal Singh Rupewali of Jalandhar, are demanding strong government interventions to oversee the market behaviour and prevent exploitation of traders rather than confining itself to making MSP announcements every season.
Rupewali who has cultivated summer maize on 70 acres of land, including 30 acres of his own and 40 acres on lease, has been receiving Rs 950 per quintal for fresh maize despite shelling out Rs 20,000 as input cost.
Summer maize is a three-month crop, sown in March and harvested in June. After the harvest, farmers sow paddy in the same fields in June. Hybrid varieties of maize are grown during the summer, and farmers typically achieve yields of 50-60 quintals per acre. However, after drying the crop to meet the specifications of MSP procurement, the yield reduces to 35-36 quintals per acre.
Gurminder Singh hailing from Kapurthala district has grown the crop on 110 acres in Rampur village. “The traders initially agree to pay Rs 1,100 to 1,200 per quintal for non-dried maize, but at the time of purchase, they back out and offer only Rs 700 to 800 per quintal. This is deceitful, and the government should intervene,” Singh explained about being exploited.
Singh has cultivated the crop on 35 acres of his own land and the remaining on the land taken on lease.
Paramjit Singh from Kang Saab Rai village hails from a family of maize growers. He has cultivated the crop on 300 acres of land, including 40 acres of family-owned land. “We are getting almost 75 per cent of the MSP because there is no control on traders by the government, and they are colluding to exploit the farmers,” he remarked.
A maize farmer has to spend at least Rs 20,000 for an acre as input cost, including seeds, fertilisers, weedicides, harvesting, and transportation to the ‘mandis’ (agricultural markets).
Additionally, there is an annual lease rate of Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 per acre. “Since we grow three crops a year, the lease rent per crop can be split into Rs. 20,000 per acre.
If I sell dried maize, I can earn approximately Rs 53,000 per acre at the rate of Rs 1,500 per quintal, out of which Rs 40,000 covers my expenses, including input costs and lease rent. This leaves me with a profit of Rs 13,000 per acre,” explained Gur Iqbal Singh, another farmer.
This means that the profit share of a farmer is bound to increase to around Rs 30,000 per acre if he receives the government-announced MSP.
In Punjab, the cultivation of summer maize (March to June) is generally discouraged due to its high water requirement. Frequent irrigation is required to compensate for the rapid evaporation.
On the other hand, farming of kharif maize (June to October) is encouraged as an alternative to the water-intensive paddy crop, which is sown during the same period. Summer maize is sown during hot sunny days and harvested before the sowing of kharif maize and paddy cultivation. But farmers said that a third crop is needed to run their livelihood.
However, Punjab needs to increase the area under kharif maize, which currently remains between 1.10 lakh hectares and 1.30 lakh hectares.
Kharif maize varieties do not give yield beyond 22 to 24 quintals per acre and at such a price the farmers would face a huge loss against the paddy cultivation which gives them around 30 quintals per acre and is procured by the government at full MSP; ie; at the rate of Rs 2,183 per quintal.
Jagsir Singh, a leader of the Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan), shared that the farmers are willing to increase the area of cultivation of kharif maize if they receive a fair MSP. He said that the current MSP for maize is very low, and still, farmers are forced to sell their crops even below that price.