This season, Punjab set a record by bringing 5.01 lakh hectares under cotton cultivation, which is the highest since 2010-11 kharif or summer-sown crop season. Official sources said the record was achieved by sustained efforts made to motivate farmers to get out of conventional cropping pattern for judicious use groundwater.
But farmers like Gurjit Singh Romana of Danewala Satkosi village in Fazilka district said the inclusion of only two crops for assured minimum rates is a cruel joke with the farming community. “The government should make assured MSP purchase for all crops a legal right of farmers,” he said.
Impressed with state government’s initiative on crop diversification, Romana volunteered to sow maize on five acres and on other 15 acres, he continued with cotton.
“Cotton is being purchased by private players at about Rs 4,800/quintal while the MSP is Rs 5,745/quintal with 8% moisture. Similarly, maize has an MSP of Rs 1,850 quintal while no buyer is offering more than Rs 1,200. I feel cheated for opting for crop diversification. The state government’s claim of calling Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020, a ‘historic move’ is a shallow statement until farmers are assured the best rates,” said Romana.
According to official sources, of the nearly 43 lakh quintal cotton in the market last year, nearly 65% was bought by private buyers below the MSP while the rest was purchased by the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI).
“Of 5.36 lakh quintal cotton arrived this year till date, 2.05 lakh quintal was sold below the MSP. It is for the second consecutive year that farmers are being paid less for the cash crop that is an economical backbone of Malwa districts,” says an official.
Criticising the bill, another farmer Jagjit Dhaliwal of Acha Rikki village in Fazilka said the bill doesn’t mean much as farmers are already being paid MSP on wheat and non-basmati varieties of paddy. Proposed legal action against those buying wheat-paddy offer no solution to the farmers who sow other crops but get exploited at the hands of the traders, he added.
Dhaliwal has sown cotton on six acres and the private players started offering Rs 4,800 per quintal at the start of this month even as the rate of the natural fibre has gone up to Rss 5,500, still short of the MSP.
“Farmers growing wheat and non-basmati rice always are paid at least the MSP. This year, I was paid Rs 1,935/quintal by a private trader, Rs 10 more than the MSP. But farmers contributing to diversified cultivation need support and assured minimum rates. In fact, assured MSP is a sham political slogan, farmers actually need assured rates on the basis of cost input calculated in the report by Dr MS Swaminathan on National Commission on Farmers to enhance profitability,” said Dhaliwal.
Kanwaljit Singh, a progressive from Bathinda’s Dialpura Bhai Ka village, said if the state government wants farmers to only grow paddy, why should they risk venturing into cultivating maize or cotton. “I have six-acre land under cotton and this year, I experimented drip irrigation on one acre. As I took my produce to the mandi in the adjoining Kotkapura town of Faridkot district, traders paid me Rs 4,600/quintal, short of over Rs 1,000,” he said.
Noted agricultural economist Dr SS Johl said proposing assured rates only for two crops is meaningless. “The state may have limited resources but agencies like Markfed should be financially strengthened to come to the rescue of cotton growers whenever private buyers pay less than the MSP,” he said.