A promised Minimum Support Price still remains an unachievable dream for the Bajra farmers; leaving them no option but to survive or switch
By Shivani Verma
Muddebihal: Every morning around seven, all the farmers and traders would be present at the APMC yard — full of the crowd and life of its own. All of them come here to sell their produce early in the morning. The light color clothes of these traders, the hustle and bustle of the mandi were vibrant. They responded in a predictable way, each of them with a goal to achieve for the day. During noon, Narayan Bhai, a farmer and trader in his forties, was looking tired with a sheen of sweat on his shirt at the back and looking for customers who were buying Bajra(Pearl millet) — a major crop of the Muddebihal taluk. His tired, worn face, a wide forehead — had numerous lines on it, wrinkles were boring deeply into his skin.
Narayan resides in Muddebihal taluk, 81 km away from the Vijayapura district in North Karnataka. He is the only one who’s earning and feeding a family of five. He’s been growing and selling Bajra for the past 20 years. He grows 60 quintals of Bajra every year. He usually sells his produce at current prices. Sometimes he has to sell it below that price depending on the market demand which would then be a loss for him. But from the past few years, he has also started to grow other crops like Tur because the income from Bajra wasn’t enough to feed his family.
“Growing Bajra is like a tradition for me, so even after I earn less I never give up on growing the crop. The market price of Bajra this year is Rs. 1,500–1,600 per quintal. Being a sole earner in the family it’s not easy to manage. I had to earn more for my son’s higher education who’s now 20-year-old. I then started to produce Tur too as the market price is higher for it and I get a fair price. I also get a Minimum Support Price (MSP) of Rs. 5,800 per quintal for Tur from the government which we don’t get for Bajra. With that income, I managed to send my son to pursue engineering in Bangalore,” said Narayan.
“The government gave some amount of money 10–15 years ago for Bajra but at present, they don’t give it. In all these years I have managed to sell whatever quantity I have produced because here we never had even a slight idea of getting MSP for Bajra,” he added.
The Government announces MSP for 25 major agricultural commodities each year in both the Crop seasons (Kharif and Rabi) after taking into account the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).
The evaluation report on the efficacy of Minimum Support Prices on farmers by Niti Aayog stated that the assurance of a stable and remunerative price environment for farmers is important for increasing agricultural production and productivity overall. The idea behind MSP is to give farmers a guaranteed price and assured market to protect them from price fluctuations and market imperfections. It also ensures higher investment in their farming and adopting modern farming practices, it is important to protect them and their interest. In case the market price for the commodity falls below the announced minimum price due to bumper production and glut in the market, state government agencies purchase the entire quantity offered by the farmers at the announced minimum price.
It also claimed that in Karnataka more than 80 percent of farmers in three out of the four villages were aware of MSP. But on the contrary, farmers aren’t getting MSP for all the crops. For some, MSP as a term doesn’t even exist.
Bandagisab Hebbal, another Bajra farmer in Muddebihal taluk who is in his 60s has a family of seven — a wife, three daughters and two sons. Bandagisab used to work in fields along with his two sons until his sons left him and moved to the city in search of better work due to low profits out of Bajra production. Survival for Bandagisab’s family was hard and they were struggling for basic living standards. He didn’t know how to grow any other crop than Bajra.
“The money I earned by Bajra’s production was not enough to sustain. I only get what the market offers me. During 2005–10 it was around Rs. 500–1000 per quintal. Major crops like Bajra are not being given importance by the government here. My sons lost interest in agriculture and they left,” said Hebbal. “I had no choice but to grow Bajra then, I didn’t get any MSP at that time and even today I don’t.”
“Gradually, I started to learn how to grow Tur to at least have the money for the survival of my family and my daughter’s education. I started growing Tur and I usually get good market price and MSP too for 10 quintals of Tur,” he added.
Hebbal has a total of 10 acres of land today — six acres for Bajra production and four acres for Tur. He says if he grows only one crop then the land will lose its fertility. Therefore, he still is keeping up with Bajra and following the practice of mixed cropping as he doesn’t know how to grow any other crop than Bajra and Tur.
The agricultural profile of the Vijayapura district mentions — Jowar, Bajra, Maize, Wheat, Millets, etc as its major crops. The Vijayapura district at a glance 2014-15 report, Government of Karnataka asserts that 7382 hectares of the area is cultivated for Bajra. Whereas, crops like Tur and Jowar have a cultivated area of 40331, 15928 hectares respectively. The farmers in Muddebihal taluk get an MSP for both Tur and Jowar.
Another farmer Rudlappa Guraddi from Ingelgeri village said, “I have eight acres of agricultural land and I have grown wheat and cotton in it for the past 10 years now. Initially, I used to grow Bajra in four acres but now I have reduced it to two acres due to the less profits earned from Bajra.”
Bajra — a Kharif crop that grows in dry and warm climatic conditions. It’s not only one of the major crops of Muddebihal but also India. It is a coarse grain crop and considered to be the poor man’s staple nourishment. It is sown between June–August and harvested between September–November. It’s a drought-tolerant crop that requires low average rainfall ranging between 40–60 cm. The ideal temperature for Bajra cultivation is 20°C to 30°C. Moist weather is an advantage.
For most farmers in Muddebihal taluk, choices are either to sell Bajra at a lower price or to switch to some other crop for a livelihood. Minimum Support Prices for Bajra for 2019–20 in India is Rs. 2000 per quintal.
The problem isn’t limited to few farmers in Muddebihal but all the farmers who grow Bajra in the taluk are pulling through the same situation.
“I have been growing Bajra for 15 years now but gradually I shifted completely to Tur due to the lesser profits from Bajra, said Sajjan, a farmer from Kuntoji. “While I used to make only Rs. 1100–1200 per quintal from Bajra, I make Rs. 6000–6500 per quintal from Tur. It’s more profitable and we also get MSP for it. We aren’t getting any assistance from the government which we should get in the first place.”
“Over the years of learning and practice, I had also started to grow grapes on my farm. But I am still sticking to millets like Tur because I like to grow it and because they are nutritious. Bajra too is but who would grow the crop if it’s going to be a loss for them,” he added with a questionable tone.
The Profile of Agriculture Statistics by Karnataka State Department of Agriculture states that Bajra’s area of cultivation in Karnataka in 2000-01 was 4.62 lakh hectare whereas in 2014-15 the area of cultivation was reduced to 2.34 lakh hectare. Production of Bajra for these two periods were 3.42 lakh tonnes and 2.48 lakh tonnes respectively.
Sharanappa Rakkasagi (48), another farmer from Muddebihal taluk said, “Most of the farmers lost interest due to less prices offered by the market. Only farmers who knew how to grow other crops had an option to switch to different crops than Bajra, also its a staple crop — one more reason why we still are growing it. The rest of the farmers are managing with how much ever profit they get from the market.”
“Government doesn’t understand that for some farmers it’s the only source of income,” he added, expressing disappointment.
The MSP evaluation report also states that The Karnataka Food & Civil Supplies Corporation (KFCSC) carries out the procurements in the State under the MSP operations. Before the start of harvesting season or around the time of harvest, the District Level Task Force Committee under the chairmanship of the Deputy Commissioner meets and decides to open the procurement centers for MSP in the required Blocks. The Agriculture Department in the district deputies trained Graders to these centers and publicity is done about the opening of centers for procurement under MSP.
The report also mentioned that in Karnataka, the self-awareness about MSP was found to the tune of 60 percent. At the same time, it is a matter of concern that only seven percent of the State officials from the district level to the Gram Panchayat level were able to disseminate information on MSP to the farmers. Similarly, 11 percent of the farmers were made aware of MSP by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) officials. Around 34 percent of the farmers received information on MSP from knowledgeable persons such as village headmen, Sarpanches, village school teachers and Gram Sevaks.
“Earlier farmers in Muddebihal used to depend totally on jowar and bajra. At present, the price of Bajra is Rs. 1,500–1,800 per quintal and for Red gram, it’s around Rs. 6000 per quintal. Production of Red gram has seen a surge over the years. As there’s more production of Red gram, there’s a demand for MSP for the same,” Rajeshwari Nadagowda, Agriculture officer of Muddebihal taluk said. “It’s true that the area of production of Bajra has been reducing but as it’s a staple food, farmers won’t completely stop producing it. We are not providing MSP for Bajra here as there’s not much demand for it and the cultivation is also reducing.”
“Right now we are encouraging our farmers to increase their millet production compared to commercial crops under a special programme called ‘Raitha Siri Scheme’. We are providing a total of Rs. 10,000 per hectare to millet growers which will also include the Bajra producing farmers. We will see if the production of Bajra increases then for sure the demand for MSP will also increase and then we will consider providing that,” Nadagowda told The Softcopy.
The MSP for 2019-20 for Bajra and Tur is Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 5,800 per quintal respectively.
The Price support scheme guidelines say that the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation (DAC) shall declare the MSP for notified agricultural commodities every year, well before both the cropping/sowing season so that the farmers may take a considered view whether the said particular crop will be a profitable venture for them or not. All the central nodal agencies shall be informed by DAC about the MSP for notified crops in every crop season, well in advance.
The evaluation report also includes a case study on MSP which discusses the awareness of farmers about MSP. It states — In Karnataka after taking a sample of 80 farmers, it was analyzed that 85 percent of farmers are aware of MSP. As per the policy, the MSP is required to be declared before the sowing season of crops covered under MSP. However, there was only one percent of the declaration of MSP by the Government before sowing, 51 percent after sowing and 48 percent can’t say.
It was also found in the report that 21 percent of the farmers of all the states in India expressed their satisfaction with the MSP declared by the Government. While 79 percent of them showed their dissatisfaction with MSP due to various reasons.
“Until and unless demand is generated in the market for millets like Bajra, farmers don’t tend to grow them in large quantities. Currently, most of the people consume fine rice and the demand for the same is high in Karnataka. Except for the commercial crops, no other crops have got a fixed price from the government,” Dushyant Kumar, professor, University of Agriculture and Horticulture Sciences said. “It is evident that farmers are switching from low priced crops to high priced crops. Currently, there’s less demand for these nutritional crops but in another couple of years, demand will be increased. This is because large consumption of these high rated crops has led to malnutrition.”
“There is a shortage of land because joint families of farmers are converted into nuclear families. So these farmers try to make the maximum amount of profit with a tiny piece of land. If the farmers are producing Bajra then either they manage to survive with a little amount due to lack of skills and if skilled, they switch to some other crop for a better price. Another reason is also the prevalence of unawareness about MSP even today,” he added.
Socio-Economic Profile of Millet growers in Karnataka, a study on millet growing farmers, published by ResearchGate mentioned that the majority of farmers in Karnataka (77.3 percent) can’t sell the millet immediately and very little is sold. The respondents need cash (77.42 percent) as a major reason for the immediate selling of produce followed by lack of storage (8.39 percent), creditor’s pressure (7.10 percent) and other reasons (7.10 percent).
The study also revealed the constraints faced by the millet farmers in marketing and value addition of millets, were found to be lack of training followed by a lack of technical information. The other reasons like lack of demand by consumers, lack of capital, marketing skills, lack of machinery and non-cooperation were some of the other constraints.
In order to increase the cultivation of millets, the needs of millet growers were also analyzed by this study. It stated — About 90 percent of the farmers wanted improved cultivation practices. Sixty-four percent of growers expected marketing facilities. Seed storage contacts (50 percent), training on value addition (54 percent), credit contacts (54 percent), processing mill information (34 percent), storage facilities before marketing (32 percent) were required by the growers. Lack of processing facilities and remunerative prices were the major reasons for the reduction in cultivation.