Sheikh Rabiul of Boromuriya village at Golsi block in Burdwan district has scaled down area under paddy cultivation by over one-third this year.

Of his little over seven acre land, approximately five acres have been used for sowing paddy. Traditionally a rice farmer, he is now considering opportunities to sow cash crop in the rest of the land.

Burdwan is the rice bowl of West Bengal, producing three paddy crops a year. But lack of remunerative prices during the last couple of seasons forced a large number of farmers in the region to reduce sowing area under paddy in this kharif season.

“Last year, I produced close to 300 bags (of 60 kg each) of paddy. I could only sell 100 bags while the rest is still lying with me,” Rabiul told Business Line.

The 35-year-old farmer could not repay the loan last year and is now borrowing money from private lenders to sustain the current season. “Another bad season and I will be in for real trouble,” he says.

Procurement system

Over and above the regular issues related to agri-marketing opportunities, Ms Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal Government’s decision to drive middlemen away from the market and put rice mills in sole charge of procuring paddy from farmers, added to the liquidity crisis.

As the State Government fixed support price for paddy without much back-up on rice procurement end, rice mills landed in a cash crunch and did not pick up the produce from farmers.

In the end, farmers were left at the mercy of the open market. “We are unable to offload our last year’s produce. We are, therefore, holding on to the stock in anticipation of getting better price by selling it in the open market this year,” said Salauddin Mullah.

Poor rains

The steep rise in fertiliser prices and poor rains have only worsened the situation.

“Price of key fertilisers such as di-ammonium phosphate and potash and pesticides has more than doubled in the last one year. The price that we are getting does not even help us cover our production cost,” he said.

The delayed monsoon is also likely to impact productivity of the crop. “Transplantation has to be done within 18-22 days of sowing of the crop; otherwise, yield will get affected. But, for transplantation, we need good rains,” said Nazib Sheikh, another farmer.

According to the District Agricultural Officer, close to 10-15 per cent of the transplantation work has been done in the district till date, against 30-35 per cent last year. “Transplantation will pick up soon as the water from DVC dam will be released this week,” he said.

shobha.roy@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 29, 2012)
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