Poinu, the harvesting season is about two months away. But farmers are not that happy this season. Besides the disruption caused by the pandemic for two consecutive years, the price of paddy and local rice is plummeting to a record low as people had grown accustomed to the free rice being distributed during the pandemic.
During the pandemic and the lockdown period, the government through various schemes had distributed rice free of cost per person to the general public for many many months. Except for some stingy MLAs in some constituencies, each person was getting the mandatory five kg a person.
Even some of the aspiring candidates of the ensuing state assembly elections had joined in the distribution of free rice while also adding some pulses to gain favour of the public.
The quantum of free rice was such that even those families, who are adverse to superfine rice brought in from outside the state and whose taste buds or stomach has only place for the local rice, had grown accustomed to superfine rice.
With the onset of Poinu, the farmers usually clear their granaries of whatever is left of the previous year’s harvest for stocking it with the new harvest. But, still there are a few takers for the local rice even at a reduced rate.
During the pandemic and pre-harvest, the price of paddy per Phoubot (80 kgs) was Rs 1600 which was a sell-out considering the cost of cultivation in recent times. Now, the price of paddy per Phoubot and Meitei Cheng per 20 kgs has plummeted to Rs 1100 and Rs 550 and still there are few takers.
The spill-over effect of free rice distribution is threatening the means of livelihood for the poor farmer. Now, farmers of the state are facing price fluctuations and uncertainty of their produce. Availability of imported rice at cheaper prices discourages our farmers from growing rice. They consider rice farming a losing pursuit on account of high cost of production and no remunerative price.
The present trend of declining profitability together with higher cost of new technology and a degree of uncertainty, in both price and productivity, meant that farmers had to bear tremendous risks in agriculture. Thus the present condition of agriculture in the state is very critical.
High yield rate, high cost of production and low profitability is the present scenario of agricultural enterprise in the state. Another problem with our farmers is cash shortage and rising prices of paddy seeds and fertilizers. First, they had to deal with the problem of cash shortage or lack of capital for beginning farming activities, more so among the farmers who do not have agriculture land of their own but are tenants of the landowners or other landless farmers who work as agriculture labourers.
Manipur farmers are mostly poverty stricken and indebted. So, most of them had to depend on investments from the urban people in the form of ‘Phoudamshel’ and the landowners. They still have to give the pledged number of Phoubots to the investors or the landowners, while they struggle with whatever is left of the harvest.
Their entire sustenance depends on that. A regular farmer feeds his family, pays the fees for his children and other essential expenses with the income from the harvest. And they suffer when the price of paddy plummets.
In a word, agriculture in the state is still practiced at a subsistence level as a survival for the poor and landless farmer. Another tragedy is that, the case of tenant farmer or landless farmer is always overlooked while framing policies or formulating schemes with regard to agriculture reforms.
The Consumer Affairs Food and Public Distribution (CAFPD) Minister L Sushildro had in a recent meeting with the farmer community promised to buy local rice at Minimum Support Price (MSP) as fixed by the state government. Still, there is no visible sign of the process and farmers are really worried.