Farmers and Chengdaibi (rice brokers) of Manipur have been suffering heavy loss due to the decline in demand for local rice since the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of buyers decreased as the government increased the procurement of rice for distribution to the public with the launch of Garib Kalyan Yojana besides the National Food Security Act (NFSA) following the pandemic. Yet, not even temporary measures have been taken to address the farmers' plight.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the state’s economy as maximum population of the state are engaged in this primary sector to make their ends meet. But carrying out agricultural activities in the state is posing a tough time due to the lack of proper irrigation facilities, shortage of subsidised urea or untimely distribution of subsidised fertliser to the farmers.
Besides, the problems of the farmers are coupled by climate change impacts such as incessant rainfall or scarcity of rainfall. Sadly, the crops, particularly local rice that is produced after beating all those odds, are yet to get the required market for selling it.
During an interaction with one of the women rice brokers, K Pramo from Imphal West, it was revealed said that most of them could not sell the rice they procured during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to lack of customers. And as the COVID-19 situation continued to affect their agricultural business, she lost all her confidence to support her family by selling local rice. It may be mentioned that most of the rice brokers in Manipur are women.
“I have been selling local rice for the last 20 years and I could easily look after my family from the profit I got in selling local rice. Before COVID-19 pandemic, I could sell 10 bags of rice that weighed 50 kg per bag in a day. But nowadays it is hard to sell one bag of rice per day even after reducing the price,” Pramo, who is in her 60s, said.
Owing to lack of customers these days, the price of local rice that was sold at Rs 40-50 per kg is now being sold at Rs 25-30 per kg, she said.
Another woman broker, Maipak, supplemented that, mentally, they really want to quit the business but emotionally, they are unable to do so because of their long spell of time in this activity.
Highlighting the present scenario, Maipak, who sells rice at Wahengbam Leikai Imphal West, said “I usually come to my selling point at 4:30 am and end my business with a good sale by 1 pm. However, these days I have to extend my time period till 4:30 pm or 5 pm.
“Even the auto fares have increased to Rs 100 per day and the situation has reached to such a level that I want to quit this business… We, the rice broker community, hope that the government will surely intervene in the present situation and solve the problem.”
All Manipur Progressive Farmers’ Association president K Thoiba said that the cost of expenditure in rice cultivation is too high while its return is too meagre.
“A farmer has to spend around Rs 19,000 per Sangam of land (local unit) excluding labour charge. However, the return the farmers receive is just around Rs 21,000. Sometimes when there is drought or flood like situation, they have to spend extra charges,” he said.
Thoiba said that even as they failed to make any good return from their preferred occupation in their given time, he added that the import of huge amounts of rice for distribution under the National Food Security Act was one of the big reasons hitting the farming community of the state hard.
He also appreciated the initiative taken up by the state government for procurement of local rice for use under the NFSA. There is an expectation that the concerned authorities will materialise their plan with proper pre-planning so that initiative would be implemented effectively and satisfactorily to beneficiaries and farmers community as well, he added.
“Being the president of a farmer-based organisation, I would like to suggest that the rice procurement process should be taken up with proper planning so that the quality of the rice to be distributed is not compromised. I hope the government fixes the price of rice and does not incur any loss to the farmers,” he said.
There is an urgent need for procurement of local rice if the state government really wants the farming community of the state to survive and prosper, he added.
One of the farmers, Rajen (name changed) expressed dismay and finds no benefit in cultivating rice. The worsening situation has discouraged him to continue with agricultural activities
“Although the government is shouting for paddy land conservation, in reality it is hard to find any activities that focus on promotion of farming communities. That is the reason many paddy lands are converted into fish farms, brick farms, etc,” the farmer noted.
Rajen said that rice is the staple food of the state but it has become difficult to cultivate paddy in the state due to lack of basic facilities. Moreover, some of his rice was damaged as he was unable to get buyers for it during the last three years or so.
When approached, state CAFPD Minister Leishangthem Susindro Meitei told this Imphal Free Press reporter that the state government has taken up an initiative for procurement of local rice from this year’s harvest (2022). For this, the state government had earmarked Rs 84 crore in the state’s budget, he said. However, the state government has not taken up temporary measures for the present crisis of inadequate market and will also discuss the matter and see what steps can be taken up, he added.
Highlighting some key points to be followed in procurement, he said that as women rice brokers play a crucial role in selling of rice and that most of the farmers in the state are tenants, the state government will give priority to women rice brokers in this rice procurement process.
The creation of a rice procurement portal has already started, the minister said, adding that registration of women rice brokers and farmers or owners will begin by December.
The state government will procure local rice at Rs 25 per kg from broker or farmer and that in order to maintain good texture and uniformity in size of rice, a modern rice mill be installed at FCS Godown Sangaiporou by December, he told IFP.
The minister also said that as many as 43 staff will be recruited soon for this initiative - one civil engineer, one mechanical engineer, one MBA in marketing, 20 computer operators, 10 multitasking staff and 10 LDC.
The state government has taken this initiative with an aim to promote agriculture in the state. From next year, they will even procure the best quality rice seed from the Central Agricultural University, Iroisemba, the minister assured.