Agri Business

Bengal farmers struggle to cope with extreme weather

Shobha Roy Recently in Burdwan | Updated on July 25, 2019 Published on July 24, 2019

Delayed rains and a dry spell in parts of West Bengal have resulted in problems for paddy farmers here, many of whom have made additional arrangements at an extra cost to water their fields.

Lack of rain in southern areas forces rice growers to delay paddy transplantation

Sixty-year-old Sajed Moulik, a farmer from Jaugram village in Burdwan district, about 100 km from Kolkata, has spent ₹2,000 in less than two days to hire an irrigation pump for his paddy field. Though he had done sowing by early June and the seedlings are now ready for transplantion, he is unable to do it because of water scarcity.

Scanty rainfall

Many farmers in the region are worried over scanty rainfall during the paddy sowing and transplantation period. Monsoon rain usually arrives in Bengal by mid-June and continues till mid-September. But, this year, South Bengal districts of Hooghly, Burdwan, Midnapore, Bankura and other rice growing areas are facing a dry spell. Farmers fear that if monsoon does not set in over the next 2-3 days, they will be in trouble. Sowing and transplantation of kharif paddy should be completed by the end of July for harvest in November-December.

“Sowing usually starts by end-May and goes on till early June. After 20-25 days, when the seedlings grow up to a certain height, we start transplanting them into fields submerged in water. But this time, I was unable to do so and some of my seedlings wilted due to lack of water,” Moulik told BusinessLine.

West Bengal produces about 20-25 million tonnes of paddy each year in three seasons – aus, aman and boro. The kharif paddy (aus and aman) output accounts for about 70 per cent of total production.

‘No need to panic’

According to PK Majumdar, Advisor to West Bengal Chief Minister on Agriculture, monsoons are expected to set in parts of South Bengal in a day or two. Even if it were to be slightly delayed and arrive only by the first week of August, the situation can be managed by doing the transplantation with machines.

“Transplantation can be done any time before mid-August. If it is delayed beyond that, then we have other alternatives such as going in for cultivation of short-duration variety,” he said on the sidelines of a rice conclave organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata on Wednesday.

Farmers usually draw canal water using irrigation pumps when monsoons are delayed. But this year, water levels in canals are abysmally low, the farmers said. It has forced them to hire pumps for longer periods, pushing up the costs.

According to Sahu Sufi Mondal, another farmer in the Jaugram village, his overall expenses on 2.8 acres of land have increased by around ₹1,500-2,000, this year.

A farmer typically spends around ₹10,000 -12,000 per 0.4 acre of land that can grow around 600 kg of rice. Against this, a farmer earns around ₹1,300 for 100 kg (or ₹7,800 for 600 kg). Most of the sale starts in November.

The minimum support price (MSP) for paddy during current marketing season was ₹1,750 per 100 kg, while market prices have been ruling lower at around ₹1,300-1,400 per 100 kg.

The West Bengal government has set a paddy procurement target of around 56 lakh tonne this marketing season in FY20. However, this procurement target which is basically not more than 25 per cent of the total production in the state. As market prices continue to rule below MSP, most farmers are forced to sell at unremunerative prices.

According to Suraj Agarwal, CEO Tirupati Agri Trade, paddy prices are ruling almost 20 per cent lower this year as compared to last year, due to poor demand primarily from Bangladesh.

Bangladesh had slapped an import duty of around 28 per cent on rice in 2018. Bengal, which had exported around 17 lakh tonne of rice to Bangladesh valued at close to ₹4,500 crore in 2017-18, saw exports dropping to around 4.1 lakh tonne (estimated at ₹1,050 crore). The State has managed to export only around 52,000 tonne of rice so far this fiscal.

Published on July 24, 2019
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