Paddy farmers get lower prices as lockdown hits supply chainThe government has fixed the minimum price of common paddy at Rs27.35 per kg for this fiscal year.
Farmers of West Nawalparasi were forced to sell their paddy harvests at a lower price this year after buyers cited lowered market demand due to the virus lockdown and travel restrictions.
The growers faced the double whammy of reduced incomes and lack of access to markets this year.
The government has fixed the minimum price of common paddy at Rs27.35 per kg and of medium paddy, including Mansuli, at Rs28.85 per kg for this fiscal year, but farmers had to sell common paddy at Rs18 to Rs20 per kg.
Dheeraj Chaudhary of Susta Rural Municipality-2 lamented lack of space for storing paddy and need for money. "The only way to make ends meet for my family is to sell my paddy harvest," he said, adding that the traders made him sell his crops at a lower price than last year’s farm gate price. The price offered by traders is different in the market, according to Chaudhary.
Upendraman Pradhan, chairman of the District Agricultural Cooperatives Association, Nawalparasi, said that traders fix the rates of fertilisers, seeds, combine harvesters and tractors for paddy and other crops. “For decades, farmers have been unable to fix the price of their produce.”
In West Nawalparasi, farmers planted paddy on 25,750 hectares this year. According to the Agriculture Knowledge Centre, Parasi, paddy production is expected to decline by 15 to 20 percent this year. Last year, the harvest totalled 90,375 tonnes.
Fatte Bahadur Tharu of Rajapur-6 in Bardia sold his paddy to a trader last Friday to pay for his household expenses. He received Rs21 per kg, way below the government fixed support price. Tharu was not even able to break even this year.
Many farmers in the district have been in difficulty after the Food Management and Trading Company did not fix the minimum support price for paddy. The government had set the minimum support price of paddy in June this year, but the company said it was waiting for a directive from the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies to procure paddy from farmers.
Rajapur Municipality and Geruwa Rural Municipality, which is surrounded by the Geruwa River, produce paddy on 16,000 hectares. In Rajapur, out of its total paddy production, 80 percent is of the Makwanpur variety which is especially used for making beaten rice. Upendra Khatri, a paddy trader in Rajapur, said that he has been buying fresh paddy from farmers at Rs21 per kg as it contains moisture and will lose weight when dried.
Farmers here have been urging the government to fix the price of Makwanpur paddy for the past four years, but they complain nobody is listening to them.
In Rajapur, a modern rice mill under Food Management and Trading Company has been procuring locally grown paddy. In the past, the support price of paddy would already have been fixed before the Dashain festival. But this year, there are no buying and selling activities in the factory.
Dharmaraj Panta, chief of the company, said that the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development had fixed the minimum support price of paddy but no directive had been issued for them to purchase paddy without the approval of the Industry Ministry. He said that the local government would fix the price as the Industry Ministry is preparing to delegate authority to the company to do so after the festival season.
In Bardia, paddy has been cultivated on 71,500 hectares this year.
Bhim Sharma, chief of the Agriculture Knowledge Centre, said that production was good this year. Due to timely rainfall, paddy production in Bardia is estimated to increase by 7.5 percent compared to last year.
Paddy farmers of Kanchanpur also did not get value for their crop.
Roshan Chaudhary of Musepani in Bedkot Municipality-6 of Kanchanpur had harvested paddy in mid-September. He was readying to sell the paddy by bagging it. He thought that the price would go up and he would be able to sell it to the mill. But it did not happen.
Chaudhary had to sell his product at a lower price than last year with a fall in the price.
Chaudhary sold paddy at Rs22 per kg last year. He said that this year the price fell by Rs1.50 per kg. "I threshed my paddy 10-15 days earlier and waited for the price to go up," he said. “There was no place to store my paddy for many days, so I sold it at a lower rate.”
Chaudhary sold 3.5 tonnes of paddy at the rate of Rs20.50 per kg to a rice mill. He sold the paddy earlier as he needed money to prepare for wheat cultivation and buy seeds and fertiliser.
"The government does not fix the price on time, and we do not get value for our production," said Janak Dhami, a paddy farmer of Bhimdatta Municipality-11.
The price of paddy in Kanchanpur reached Rs29 per kg in mid-September. As farmers started selling their harvest, the price declined sharply to Rs19 to Rs20 per kg. In rural areas, mill operators and vendors are buying paddy at their own rate. They are buying paddy for Rs19.50 to Rs20.50 per kg.
In various districts, a committee chaired by the chief district officer determines the price of paddy based on the production cost and the market price.
The price is fixed only after the Food Management and Trading Company starts buying paddy.
Tapendra Upadhyaya, chief of Food Management and Trading Company, Mahendranagar, said that procurement would start in Kanchanpur immediately after Dashain. "We will set the price at the rate fixed by the government. We will start buying paddy once we fix the price," he said.
"We are technically not in a position to purchase paddy currently as the moisture content in paddy is high now," he added. "We have to store paddy for 10-12 years. In this case, paddy with a high moisture content can rot in the warehouse," he said.
Paddy is cultivated on about 50,000 hectares in Kanchanpur and productivity is around 4 tonnes per hectare. Paddy production is expected to increase this year due to timely rainfall.
But farmers in the eastern Tarai district never got the minimum support price fixed by the government as all activities are done by middlemen. Farmers are always forced to sell paddy at the price fixed by middlemen, they said.
Farmers had to sell common paddy at way below the support price fixed by the government, causing them to suffer a loss of Rs2.57 per kg on common paddy and Rs3.48 per kg on medium paddy. The price list of the Morang Trade Association shows that common paddy Radha 12 was sold at Rs22.75 per kg and medium paddy (Sona Mansuli) was sold at Rs23.25 per kg last year in the eastern Tarai.
According to the association, the price of new paddy has been set at Rs18 per kg. The price was Rs21 per kg during the same season last year. Farmer Ajay Kumar Singh of Jahada said that farmers have always been forced to sell paddy at a lower price than the production cost.
Prakash Mundhra, chairman of the association, said that prices are determined on the basis of supply and demand and by observing the border market price. He said that if the market does not implement the price fixed by the government, it should buy paddy from the farmers at the price fixed by it.
Minister for Economic Affairs and Planning of Province 1, Indra Bahadur Angwo, claimed that the provincial government had implemented the support price set by the federal government. But farmers said it had not been implemented.
(With inputs from Nabin Poudel in Parasi, Kamal Panthi in Bardia, Manoj Poudel in Kapilvastu, Bhawani Bhatta in Kanchanpur and Binod Bhandari in Biratnagar.)