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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mountains of golden ripe debt

Madhya Pradesh Government is trying hard these days to elicit a smile on the faces of the farmers of the state with its false promises. It is assuring them that wheat produced by them will now be exported. Presently, their wheat fetches them about Rs. 600 per quintal. The Government is saying that if they produce a particular variety of wheat called Kathia or Duram, it will be exported and will bring them more money. At the same time, the Government is honestly also adding that it will not act as an exporting agency on their behalf. Madhya Pradesh Industry Development Corporation is making the plan for Kathia export. Private companies will also export this variety of wheat. The word has been going round for last two-three years and consequently, there has been an increase in the production of Kathia wheat at several places in the State. The largest producer of this variety is Dhar district. The soil of Hoshangabad and Harda is also considered congenial for Kathia wheat; hence full efforts are being made in both districts to persuade farmers for producing it. But singing eulogies for this variety without first knowing their effect is a dubious act. It should be mentioned here that Kathia wheat is considered to be one of the coarse grains and is generally used as fast food. It is consumed most in the southern part of the country where coarse grains are preferred more. In comparison to other varieties of wheat, its corn is bigger and harder. It is used more for making Dalia. It is also used in making pizza and other fast foods. According to the Agriculture Department, its demand is on the increase abroad. Harda stands first in the state in Kathia production. It is also sown in some parts of Malwa and coastal regions of Narmada. Last year, its total yield was about 20 thousand hectares. This year during the spring sowing, the Government has set its target at 2 lakh tons, says Dr. J. S. Kaushal, the Agricultural Coordinator of M.P. Government. It is evident that farmers are being encouraged to sow this variety. But the things being said by the Government for promoting its production are misleading. The whole promotion exercise is overlooking one of its important aspects. Kathia is not the staple food of the people in Malwa and Narmada regions. Dalia, pizza, bread and other fast foods that are prepared using this variety are not eaten here. It means that Kathia is being brought in these areas as a cash crop. Before its arrival, soyabean was another autumn cash crop that has ousted pulses and other indigenous food crops. Persuaded by the Government, farmers took to soyabean. But after 30 years things have taken a turn for the worse. Producing soyabean is no more a profitable proposition. Its production cost is increasing, while its output level and price has become static. Farmers are bearing the consequent loss. The farmers of Hoshangabad, once called the Soya district, are turning to other crops. But the greatest problem is that alternative crops are not easily available for they were long ousted from this region by Soya. It has also adversely affected the general health here because of the resultant malnutrition. Worst affected in this respect are, of course, women. The farmers lured by Soya abandoned pulse crops and other traditional food crops long ago. If the ongoing efforts of the Government for Kathia production succeed, during both, summer and autumn season, cash crops would dominate the farming scene and farmers will have to purchase their food grains from the market at higher prices. Big farmers can afford to experiment with Kathia production, but for small and marginal farmers, it will finally bring doom. If farmers face food crisis after securing loans, their situation might become identical to their counterparts in Punjab, Haryana and Andhra? Has the Government shown them this aspect of Kathia production? But all this pertains to future. As far as the present condition is concerned, the fact of the matter is that even now the farmers producing Kathia are not in a good situation. Kisan Kumar Lakhera and Jagdish Prasad Lakhera of Hiran Khera village in Hoshangabad district are farmers using modern methods of farming. This year, they too experimented with Kathia. Regretfully, they say that when they took the step they were assured a luring price of Rs.1600 per quintal. But no arrangements were made for its procurement; no one was ready to buy it in the grain market. They were forced to sell it at prices lower than even the official procurement prices. An important reason for such a catch-22 situation was the type of seeds itself; owing to its hard variety, no one with a flour machine is ready to grind it. It may be mentioned that several private companies are doing the procurement work in agricultural sector. For instance, in Hoshangabad, ITC is buying wheat. The company bought Raj, Lokvan, 173, all varieties of wheat, but did not buy Kathia. Farmers have to buy Kathia seeds from the Government at the price of Rs. 2000 per quintal. Presently, four of its varieties are being made available. Among them, Malwa Shakti, Malwa Ratan, Malwa Swaran and Sudha 1106 are prominent. Recently launched Sudha 1106 has been developed by Agricultural Research Centre, Panwar Khera. The Agricultural Corporation makes rest of the varieties available. Farmers are sowing them with hope that they might be able to sell them as seeds. The high yields given by these varieties are another reason that farmers are taking to them. They produce 20-22 quintal of wheat per acre. Moreover, the approximate weight of its 1000 corns is 52 grams, while the same number of other crops comes to about 38-40 grams. Thus one needs to question the basis on which agricultural products are marketed. Should only prospects of economic prosperity be considered while making so vital decisions, or other social factors also count? Example of Soya has shown the transience of such economic prosperity. But a situation is being made where farmers will be left with no other option. Before promoting such new crops only on economic basis, consideration should be given to related social and political issues. CHARKHA FEATURE

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