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Why Punjab farmers who bet big on moong this summer reaped a harvest of discontent

Jagraon/Ludhiana: Encouraged by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government’s promise to procure pulses at Minimum Support Price (MSP), the area under moong cultivation in Punjab nearly doubled this summer as farmers eyed extra income.

The commitment, which coincided with an early harvest of wheat due to a heatwave, provided a window to the farmers to grow a third crop before the paddy season began in July.

Moong (a green legume), they thought, would bring in additional income apart from what they earn from wheat and paddy. But, growers in Punjab have come to resent the experience, reveals a ground assessment by ThePrint. 

While the state government procured just about 11 per cent of the total produce at MSP according to Punjab State Agricultural Marketing Boardanother scheme — meant to assure farmers that they would be paid the difference between MSP and lower market prices — ended up muddling the situation further. 

Farmers complained that traders reduced market prices following the announcement of the compensation. Some even complained they were better off without this intervention.

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Planting dynamics

In parts of Punjab, moong is considered a safe bet for potato growers who do not cultivate wheat in the Rabi (winter crop) season. Potatoes are usually harvested by March, leaving farmers with ample time to plant moong.

Depending on the variety, moong gets ready for harvest in 60-90 days, ahead of the arrival of monsoon which marks the beginning of the Kharif season. Wheat farmers, on the other hand, generally leave their land idle after harvesting is over in April-May. 

But 2022 turned out to be different with early harvest of wheat, prompted by a searing heatwave, allowing some wheat farmers to plant moong. Traditional moong farmers as well as wheat growers, who planted moong as a third crop after wheat, were bolstered when the Punjab government assured them of procuring moong at MSP of Rs 7,275 per quintal.

This is how, according to the state agriculture department, the area under moong cultivation in Punjab almost doubled from 70,000 acre in the previous season to 1.25 lakh acre this summer.

Estimates by Punjab Mandi Board suggest that about 5 lakh tonne of moong had arrived in Punjab’s wholesale market by 31 August, of which over 87 per cent was sold at prices lower than the MSP.

Satwant Singh, a farmer from Malak village in Ludhiana district who had cultivated moong on 17 acres of farmland, said he was paid about Rs 6,000 per quintal for his produce in the Jagraon mandi. “Our produce wasn’t sold at MSP. Even without the policy, we have seen the price reaching Rs 6,500 per quintal. But this time, the private traders didn’t offer more. They arbitrarily fixed the price of moong,” he told ThePrint.

“In the early days of procurement, the price was about Rs 6,000-6,200 per quintal, but as the supply of moong increased later on, the prices fell to about Rs 4,500-5,500 per quintal,” said Lakhwinder Singh, another farmer from Malak village who grew the crop on 11 acre of farmland.

However, commission agents who help farmers sell their produce at Jagraon mandi claimed moong wasn’t sold at MSP primarily due to ‘quality concerns’. Only ‘A-grade’ quality of moong was procured at MSP, forcing farmers to sell their harvest to private traders, they said.

Not far from the Jagraon mandi is Kothe Jive De village. Its sarpanch, Charanpreet Singh, has been growing both potatoes and wheat separately on the land he owns for many years now. Prior to 2022, Charanpreet’s wheat field would be lying idle till the sowing of rice, but this year, he decided to plant moong on half of his 50-acre wheat field.

Usually, the cost of cultivating moong is about Rs 3,000-4,000 per quintal of produce in Punjab which is sold in the state’s markets for Rs 5,000-6,500 per quintal, compared to the MSP of Rs 7,275 reserved for the best quality.

Had their moong been procured at MSP, farmers were expecting to earn up to Rs 36,375 per acre (assuming five quintals is grown on an acre), but only some managed to reap the benefit.

Their [MARKFED, the nodal agency for procurement] machines discarded 70-80 per cent of our harvest. Private traders were offering Rs 5,900-6,200 per quintal for the entire lot. It was natural for a farmer to sell in the private markets,” Charanpreet told ThePrint.

Failed promise

Charanpreet said that this year, a number of commodities including mint, wheat and potatoes “were sold at a higher price in the market”.

“Based on that, we were expecting to earn about Rs 8,000-9,000 per quintal from moong. But the MSP, instead of becoming a floor price, became a ceiling price as private traders were not willing to offer more this time,” he explained.

Moong growers went on protests, forcing the Punjab government to announce a price deficiency payment scheme in July. Under the scheme, farmers who sold their produce below the MSP were to be compensated with up to Rs 1,000 per quintal. 

However, Charanpreet claimed private traders further decreased the market price for moong by Rs 1,000 per quintal following the announcement of the scheme.

“When we told them [private traders] that we sold the same crop at a higher price a week ago, they told us that ‘you are now getting a bonus as well, so take that bonus and this rate’,” he added.

ThePrint spoke to several farmers who said they had to fill reams of paperwork to claim compensation and are still waiting to receive the payment. Moreover, the farmers said there were not enough patwaris (local revenue officers) to help them with the paperwork.

What experts say

The idea behind offering farmers a price incentive for planting moong was to make them switch to varieties of rice which consume less water. Only those farmers who planted PR126 or Basmati varieties of rice, were eligible to sell their moong at MSP. 

However, the state government allegedly did not attempt any such transition, to push farmers in Punjab to plant moong instead of rice in the ongoing Kharif season.

“The economics of rice doesn’t allow any other crop to compete with it in the Kharif season. Higher yield, price stability, assurance and the ability to sustain weather conditions and pests makes it difficult for farmers to switch from rice. Moong has its own benefits for soil and crop diversification, but the economics doesn’t allow it to become a substitute for rice in Punjab,” said Ajmer Singh Dhatt, additional director of research (horticulture and food science) at the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana.

If paddy is sold at MSP, farmers can earn a minimum of Rs 51,000 per acre as compared to a little over Rs 36,000 per acre for moong.

According to Krishak Samaj chairman Ajay Vir Jakhar, the Bhagwant Mann government’s moong MSP policy was “ill-planned, ill-timed and poorly implemented”.

Jakhar, who is also a former chief of the Punjab Farmers’ Commission, said the “government buckled under pressure to procure moong of lesser quality which was not supported by NAFED [a central procurement agency]”.

“This had unanticipated financial implications for the state and will have grave implications for pulses procurement in future. Also, it did not help [the objective of] crop diversification,” he added.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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Source: The Print

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