By Saurabh Katkurwar
New Delhi, March 19: The Union government is set to begin procuring wheat from farmers in an “active” mode as stocks with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) have plummeted to 6.5 million tonnes — less than half the average maintained — due to the drought in the 2015-16 season.
Food Ministry officials said the procurement process will start from Madhya Pradesh in the next few days and will, in April, extend to Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
“We have an opening balance of 6.5 million tonnes against the average of 14 million tonnes. This year we are going to conduct active procurement. It envisages certain measures including day-to-day monitoring, effective communication with states,” Prashant Trivedi, Joint Secretary in the Department of Food and Public Distribution, told IANS.
The FCI has fixed a procurement target of 33 million tonnes for the 2017-18 fiscal starting April, against the 22.96 million tonnes purchased in the previous year, when production was low at 92.29 million tonnes.
In February, the government had projected the wheat production to cross the “record” 96 million tonne figure following a good monsoon in 2016-17. However, a fluctuation in climatic conditions, with an increase in temperature, gave the farmers jitters as hot weather might have damaged the grain while it was still ripening.
The fluctuation, however, did not last long and the chill in the air returned in a few days, providing much-needed relief.
“There was a little anxiety after the temperature rose suddenly. However, it was a very short spell and it had no impact. Now, we are sure that the harvest will be bumper,” Dr. Trilochan Mohapatra, Secretary in the Department of Agricultural Research and Education, told IANS.
Reinforcing this, a scientist at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) said that the size of the wheat grain would have shrunk had the warm weather continued for over a week.
“When the grain starts developing, the crop needs cold weather, especially during night time. If the warm condition in February had remained for a long period, the grain quality would have been damaged and its size would have been smaller,” said the scientist, who did not want to be named.
Meanwhile, a senior FCI official said it may lower its projected wheat procurement figure if the harvest is not found as much as estimated.
“In addition to replenishing the stock, we wanted to regulate the prices in the open market by procuring a surplus amount. So we fixed a target of 33 million tonnes this year (2017-18). However, we may reduce it if production is found lower than estimated,” said the official, who did not wish to be named.