Updated: October 4, 2020 1:58:05 am
(Written by Gagan)
The ongoing farmers’ agitation in Punjab and Haryana has not spilled over to Himachal Pradesh, even though it’s primarily an agrarian state.
The fear of losing Minimum Support Price (MSP), which is one of the main causes driving the protests in other parts of the country, is absent among the farmers in Himachal because only a small amount of food grain is procured by the state government.
According to the Food Corporation of India (FCI), there is no procurement of rice/paddy in Himachal, while around 880 metric tonnes of wheat was procured in 2019-20. The state government also procures some amounts of cereals and fruits.
“Most of our produce is used for our own consumption. So farmers here are not really concerned about the new laws,” said Mohar Singh, a farmer from Dalash village in Anni.
Fruits and vegetables comprise the main commercial crops in the state, but they are mostly sold to private buyers, even though the state government runs a market intervention scheme for fruit producers. For instance, only about nine per cent of the total 6.64 lakh metric tonnes of apples produced last year were procured by the state government at a price of Rs 8 per kg, according to the state economic survey.
Agricultural produce in Himachal is regulated by a state agricultural marketing board under the HP Agricultural and Horticultural Produce Marketing Act, and there are 58 APMC markets in the state.
According to Deepak Singha, an apple grower from Thanedar in Shimla, the market fee imposed under the Act may be abolished once the new laws are implemented. “Time will tell whether the new laws prove to be beneficial for farmers or not. To avoid being exploited, farmers may have to form more farmer producer organisations and companies (FPOs & FPCs). As for apple growers in Himachal, I don’t see any particular disadvantage from the new laws,” he said.
Apple growers in Himachal auction their produce to private traders from all over the country, and also sell them to some corporates. “Corporates buy apples from us, store them in cold stores, and then sell them in the off-season when retail prices are high. There is some level of price manipulation also. This harvest season for instance, we were selling apples at Rs 2,000-3,000 per box to the traders initially. These days, the prices have come down to around Rs 1,200-1,400, even though demand and retail prices have not reduced. It seems likely that trader bodies and corporates have brought down their prices through some nexus,” said an apple grower from Matiana, who did not wish to be named.
The Himachal Kisan Sabha, which held protests against the new laws last week, believes that growers of vegetables and other crops are already getting low prices for their produce. State president of the organisation Kuldeep Singh Tanwar, while addressing the protesters, said that garlic produced in Himachal was bought for Rs 6-33 and then sold for as much as Rs 150 in other states last year.
70% work force in agriculture
Agriculture/horticulture provides direct employment to around 70 per cent of the total workers in Himachal, and about 13 per cent of the gross state domestic product (GSDP) comes from agriculture and allied sectors, according to the state economic survey. The average land holding size is one hectare, and 88 per cent of the total holdings (9.61 lakh) belong to small and marginal farmers. The state produced roughly 16 lakh MT foodgrains, 16.5 lakh MT vegetables and 7 lakh MT fruits in 2019-20.
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