Lack of milling facility forces paddy-surplus Tripura to spend crores on rice imports

While procurement has become popular among farmers, insufficient collection is forcing the government to shell out hundreds of crores every year for rice imports while they have got all the rice right at home.

Tripura’s BJP-led state government is procuring 10,000 MT paddy from farmers at Minimum Support Price (MSP) starting Monday, even as the Centre’s Food Corporation of India (FCI), which procured paddy for the first time here in 2018, has declined to do so this year.

Unlike 2018, when paddy was procured from 10 locations, the government is buying paddy at Rs. 1750 per quintal in 20 locations spread across 18 rural development blocks.

However, this procurement accounts for merely 1.25 percent of paddy produced in Tripura and the state government still spends over Rs. 600 crores for FCI imports every year. So, why is the government spending hundreds of crore when it has got all the stocks it needs right at home?

“We procured 10 thousand MT paddy from the state with support from Food Corporation of India (FCI) last year. We tried to convince them to repeat it but they have declined so far. So, we have decided to procure 10,000 MT paddy at Rs. 1,750 per quintal on our own with a cumulative subsidy of Rs. 2.25 crores”, Tripura Food and Civil Supplies Minister Manoj Kanti Deb told reporters.

Meanwhile, farmers in the field say the project has already started to gain traction in rural hamlets as trouble-torn paddy cultivators have finally got respite from predatory rates imposed by middlemen.

Nilmohan Das, Indrajit Das and Himangshu Das, three small farmers from Mirza village in Gomati district, 70 km from here, told that they grew around 20 quintal paddy each in 2018, out of which they sold 8 quintal paddy per head to the government after fulfilling his staple food requirements and got Rs. 1,750 per quintal or Rs. 17.50 per Kg which is nearly double the prevalent market rates.

“This is way higher than the prevalent market rates. The scheme is really good for farmers. But they should buy more paddy from us and the price should be increased”, they said.

Amulya Charan Debnath, Bikash Das and Nripendra Kumar Bhowmik of Rajibnagar village in Sabroom of South Tripura today sold their paddy to government for the first time. “We are very happy at the price government is giving us. They should purchase more paddy from us”, they said.

Superintendent of Agriculture Ajay Debbarma who supervised the Paddy Procurement Centre set up at Rajibnagar said farmers have given highly positive response to the procurement drive. “We have received 40 MT paddy till 3 PM today. We have a target of 100 MT paddy procurement every day till June 16”, the official said.

Why procurement is less

While procurement has become popular among farmers, insufficient collection is forcing the government to shell out hundreds of crores every year for rice imports while they have got all the rice right at home.

As per Agriculture Department reports, Tripura needs 3 lakh metric tons of rice per year as per Public Distribution System (PDS) requirement. It produces 12 lakh metric ton paddy annually including Boro, Aman and Aush crops.

Citing Agriculture reports, Assistant Director for Food and Public Distribution Sushanta Banerjee said 10-12 lakh metric ton paddy is produced annually in Tripura. This reduces to around 8 lakh metric ton rice since nearly one-third of paddy bulk is lost during husking process. However, the bulk can’t be purchased due to lack of milling facility and the government still has to spend over Rs. 600 crores per year behind paddy imports via FCI.

Tripura earlier set a ten-year target for food self sufficiency in 2002-03. The target was not achieved at the time of evaluation in 2012-13 and barely 25 thousand MT meat, 12.5 crore eggs and 1.05 MT milk was produced annually at the time. Later, erstwhile Left Front government set a new target for self sufficiency in food production by 2020.

The incumbent BJP-led government stressed on importance of achieving self-sufficiency in food production but despite repeated attempts, has failed to cut down on its import dependency so far.

Asked why his department is not saving on the paddy imports, Food minister Manoj Kanti Deb said there are only two rice mills in Tripura, which can’t process all paddy produced here and the government can’t accept unhusked rice.

High milling charge

Former Horticulture Director Baharul Islam Majumder, who is credited with introduction of the popular SRI or System of Rice Intensification in 2002, said public procurement is not working out so far since milling charge is very high in Tripura. “Hefty milling charge causes the rate to go so high that it exceeds FCI-approved rates. Milling infrastructure needs to be developed here in order to reduce the price of rice”, he said.

One more hindrance in the way of public procurement of paddy is that the government can’t accept paddy stocks which have more than 17 percent moisture in them, over 6 percent mixture of low quality grains, over 5 percent germinated, discoloured grains and over 2 percent foreign matters and there are not enough proper husking and cleaning facilities here.

The Food Minister, who comes from a farming family of Dhalai district himself, said he sold paddy grown in his fields at Rs. 10-12 per Kilo in 2018. But the government procurement provides a Minimum Support Price (MSP) of Rs. 17.50 per Kilo to farmers, generating nearly double income for them. The problem is that the system has a sale ceiling of 2 quintal for each farmer this year.

With all preparations on the ground, farmers in Tripura only hope that government will come to them in the fields and buy their crops at MSP at much larger quantities, putting an end to price deprivation and poverty for them.

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