Mills demanding “huge” discounts to procure harvested paddy citing high moisture content, shrivelled grains, discolouration, presence of foreign matters, and so on above specified limits often causes friction between paddy farmers and agents in Kuttanad.
The ongoing ‘Puncha’ (first) crop season is no different as the impasse already led to inordinate delays in procurement at many places.
With it affecting the procurement process, farmers and experts are calling for government intervention and a standardised testing exercise.
As per the fair average quality (FAQ) norms issued by the Food Corporation of India, the maximum moisture content in paddy should not exceed 17%. Likewise, the maximum limit fixed for immature, shrunken and shrivelled grains is 3%, foreign matter (inorganic 1% and organic 1%), and damaged, discoloured, sprouted and weevilled grains (4%-5%).
Farmers say that in some cases agents are demanding a discount of up to 10 kg per quintal of paddy after some of the specifications exceeded the maximum limit. “Mills have entrusted agents to purchase paddy from farmers after measuring moisture content and so on. They play a key role in the procurement process with farmers forced to accept their terms.
“For example, agents will bring their own equipment to measure moisture and then provide a measurement. If the equipment gives a measurement of 24%, we have to give a discount of seven kg per quintal as per the rules. There is every chance that agents manipulate measurements and are using uncalibrated equipment. There are instances when equipment in the possession of the paddy marketing officer and agent gave different measurements. It is very difficult for us to cross-check the measurements as paddy polder committees and Krishi Bhavans lack such machines,” says Chackappan Antony, a paddy farmer from Champakulam, adding that this time the agents are mostly focusing on shrunken and shrivelled grains to get the discount.
Mr. Antony urges the government to allocate moisture measuring meters to Krishi Bhavans in Kuttanad. “We are ready to give discounts based on correct measurements. But agents should not be allowed to harass farmers. Paddy polder committees can also consider buying their own equipment to avoid stand-offs,” he says.
Jibin Thomas, coordinator, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation Kuttanad Centre, calls for a scientific approach to address the issue.
Nowadays, whenever a dispute arises between farmers and agents, officials of the Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation and the Agriculture department mediate and often find a solution. “Majority of the paddy produced in Kuttanad is below FAQ. Though the norms call for strenuous quality checks prior to procurement, it is not practical in Kuttanad. What we are doing is allowing mills and farmers to reach a settlement. In eight out of the 10 paddy polders, procurement takes place without any issue,” says a Supplyco official.