Food prices soar but farmers left out of the bonanzaFar from getting high prices for their paddy as had been forecast, Kanchanpur farmers are having a hard time even finding buyers.
When adjusted for inflation, food is more expensive now than in the last 45 years, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Food Price Index, which tracks monthly changes in the international prices of common food commodities.
The rise in food prices overall is attributed to inflation and weather events, such as heavy rains in India and China that have damaged crops and made vegetables more expensive and in shorter supply.
Inflationary pressure has started to weigh down Nepali consumers too.
But for farmer Nanak Dev Joshi of Kanchanpur in far western Nepal, it is the other way around. Far from getting high prices for his paddy harvest as had been forecast, he is having a hard time even finding buyers.
Joshi has been holding on to 4 tonnes of paddy that he harvested in mid-October, waiting for traders to offer him a reasonable rate.
He was fortunate that his crop was not destroyed by the unseasonal rainfall of October.
Many farmers in Kanchanpur suffered heavy losses as their paddy was damaged. The low harvest was expected to drive up prices, but it has not happened for Joshi.
“State-owned Food Management and Trading Company is not buying our paddy. And private traders want us to sell our crops at the low prices that they have fixed themselves,” he said. Joshi has to prepare for his next crop cycle on his 2-bigha farm by selling his paddy harvest.
“No one is buying,” lamented Joshi.
Traders have unilaterally fixed the paddy price which is less than 50 percent of the market value.
According to Joshi, traders have been putting forth dubious reasons that the paddy harvested in Kanchanpur is of lower quality because the fields had been inundated by the floods in October.
This year, the minimum support price of “common paddy” fixed by the government has been raised to Rs29.02 per kg from Rs28.85 per kg last year.
The minimum support price for "mota dhan" (short grain) has been set at Rs27.52 per kg, up from Rs27.35 per kg last year.
This year's floor prices were proclaimed on September 14. The minimum support price is the price the government guarantees to pay farmers for their harvest if the bottom drops out of the market.
In Kanchanpur, according to Joshi, traders are offering Rs12 to Rs18 per kg, depending on the quality, for the paddy damaged by rain. Good quality paddy has been priced at Rs21 per kg, which is still far below the government announced minimum support price.
The unseasonal rains and floods in October had caused losses amounting to Rs11.87 billion in the farm sector. The Agriculture Ministry said that an estimated 424,113 tonnes of paddy on 111,609 hectares had been destroyed.
The statistics show that paddy crops on 90,996 hectares were completely damaged while paddy crops on 62,155 hectares were partially damaged, and paddy on 39,383 hectares was slightly damaged.
In Kailali and Kanchanpur districts of Sudurpashchim province, the rains damaged 138,528 tonnes of paddy on 36,455 hectares. The total losses in the province have been assessed at Rs3.87 billion.
Everyday, many farmers make a trip to the office of Food Management and Trade Company in Mahendranagar to find out whether the company has started procuring paddy. Farmers are hopeful that the company will pay them the prices fixed by the government.
But the state-owned company has been delaying buying paddy from farmers, and opportunist traders are taking advantage of the situation, farmers say.
Tapendra Prasad Upadhyay, acting chief of Food Management and Trade Company, said that procurement would begin from Monday. But he said they would be buying less paddy this year.
“We had asked for permission to procure at least 1,000 tonnes of paddy this year, but we got the go-ahead to buy only 600 tonnes,” said Upadhyay.
Last year, despite the procurement quota of 1,300 tonnes of paddy in Kanchanpur, the company had procured only 947 tonnes.
"The procurement quota, however, can be increased gradually," said Upadhyay.
Paddy is cultivated on 50,000 hectares in Kanchanpur with a productivity rate of 4 tonnes per hectare. Production was expected to increase significantly because of timely monsoon rainfall and availability of chemical fertiliser, but unusual downpours in October destroyed the harvest.
In Kanchanpur, paddy output has been estimated to drop by 30 percent.
"The crop was good till mid-October, a week before the harvest," said Dil Bahadur Bista, chief of the Agriculture Knowledge Centre, Kanchanpur. "The unseasonal rainfall damaged the ripened crops; as a result, we have estimated a drop in output of more than 30 percent," he said.
The country suffered floods following the unseasonal torrential rains that started on October 17 and killed more than 100 people and left settlements in several districts awash.
Heavy rainfall is unusual in Nepal during October, which is traditionally outside the monsoon season.
Photo caption: Farmers transporting paddy on a cart to market in Sundarpur, Kanchanpur.