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Farmers Want Govt to Procure Paddy

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Farmers were the worst sufferers due to a series of cyclones that caused severe crop damage in north Coastal Andhra in the last few months. But now, it is the turn of everyone in the state to bear the brunt as the prices of rice are expected to go up by at least 10-20 per cent in the next a few months. Chances of any bumper crop for rabi also appear to be bleak causing a statewide concern over availability of rice in the coming days and possible skyrocketing of their prices.

Due to incessant rainfall caused by a series of cyclones, paddy production in the region has been severely affected. As against the normal area of over six lakh hectare for paddy production in Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts, about five lakh hectares was brought under cultivation  during kharif season this year. But the paddy crop was damaged by over 50 per cent in Srikakulam district and another 40 per cent in Visakhapatnam district due to heavy rains. However, the loss is relatively negligible in Vizianagaram district.

According to an estimation by agriculture department, about 12.5 lakh tonne of paddy is produced in the north Coastal Andhra districts including over 5.2 lakh tonne paddy in Srikakulam district during kharif every year. An additional 3-4 lakh tonne paddy is produced during the rabi season. While fine rice varieties like Swarna, Sona and Samba Masoori are popular during the kharif season in north Coastal Andhra region, the 1001 variety rice which is distributed through fair price shops in the state, is widely cultivated during rabi.

“But with the recent rainfall, the production is likely to decrease by at least 50 per cent in Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam districts. The only hope is that farmers have a bumber crop during rabi which could stablise the price hike which is already increasing in the market now,” said M Venkataramana, a rice merchant from Visakhapatnam who is in the rice business for the last 15 years. At present, the fine quality rice is being sold at Rs 42-Rs 55 per kg.

While the merchants and farmers predict a hike in rice prices, the agriculture department officials feel otherwise. Vizianagaram assistant director of agriculture Trinadha Swamy said that the rice price is likely to remain stable till completion of rabi season as paddy production is likely to increase in the region during the season.

While the entire paddy production of 3.24 lakh tonne in Vizianagaram is decreased by only 3,000 tonne, the remaining paddy production of about 9.26 lakh tonne fell by 50 per cent in Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam district due to rains.

“Though 68 per cent rice can be produced from a tonne paddy, it is possible to produce only 50-60 per cent rice from the existing damaged paddy. Hence, about 3.8 lakh tonne rice can be produced from this paddy,” explained G Rambabu, a farmer from Srikakulam district. He said that incessant rains have severely damaged and discoloured the paddy crop which would result in lesser market price for them. Adding to this, farmers hardly cultivate paddy during rabi season in this region and only about 50,000 tonne rice is likely to supplied during rabi.

However, rice syndicates rule the roost in north Coastal Andhra region and when a crisis like heavy rains causes severe losses resulting in low production, they do not shy away from making some quick bucks. Farmers fear that rice millers will procure all paddy from farmers and create a shortage by preserving rice stocks to hike the price. They feel that the government should directly purchase paddy which would not only help farmers to get a remunerative price but also ensure price control in the market.

Vizianagaram district Rice Millers Association president Shiva admitted that some hoarders and black marketers are practicing illegal ways to earn huge profits. He said that restarting of rabi cultivations will help for stabilising rice price in the open market. He assured that the millers would cooperate with the officials in curbing illegal hoarding and blackmarketing of rice.

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