Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in the budget that 2022-23 is the ‘International Year of Millets’ and promised measures for their promotion. But in Karnataka, there are fears that farmers might again shy away from cultivating ragi, a millet consumed in the southern districts. While this millet had seen growth in the past few years, the crop is being hit by the lack of farmer-friendly procurement policy.
Since 2014-15 when the humble millet was introduced in the Public Distribution System (PDS) and subsequently Minimum Support Price (MSP) was introduced for ragi in 2015-16, the area under ragi cultivation had seen an increase by 14% and production increased by 7%. Also, with high-yielding crop varieties, production has gone up.
In fact, the decade before 2014 had seen an annual decline of area under cultivation by around 2% from – from about 9.38 lakh hectares in 2005 to 7.08 lakh hectares in 2014.
In 2020-21, ragi was cultivated in about 7.81 lakh hectares in Karnataka. Despite rains damaging the crop, in 2020-21, about 13.6 lakh tonnes of ragi was produced in Karnataka. It is estimated that about 50% of the total production comes to the market while the rest is retained by farmers for their consumption.
However, the ragi procurement this season has come under criticism as the total quantum for procurement of ragi has been fixed at 2.10 lakh tonnes, and restriction on procurement from each farmer owning less than 4 acres to a maximum of 20 quintals. The MSP for ragi has been fixed at ₹3,377 per quintal this year, an increase of ₹82 per quintal over the last year when 4.7 lakh tonnes had been procured.
Stopped in PDS
“Farmers are selling their produce around 35% less than the MSP since the government is delaying procurement. Government should not restrict the quantum of procurement. Farmers are losing out due to the delay,” KRRS leader Badagalpura Nagendra said. In fact, ragi quota of 3 kg given in PDS has been stopped for two months. “Why cannot the government procure full quantum of ragi that is brought by farmers and ensure proper supply through PDS?”
While the registration window for procurement was closed in January, the cabinet sub-committee to decide on whether to have another round of procurement is yet to announce its decision.
“Farmers should be incentivised to grow millets, but what government has done with procurement does not give confidence to farmers. Government has not sent the right signal to farmers who cultivate ragi,” said former Chairman of Agriculture Price Commission Prakash Kammaradi.
Centre not informed
He blamed the lower quantum of procurement fixed by the Centre due to Karnataka’s inability to communicate the ground situation. “Crop forecast and estimates should be conveyed to the Centre. Effective supply of ragi in PDS will save ₹10 per family per month for Karnataka since the cost of ragi is less.”