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Despite lockdown, wheat procurement surpasses last year”s figures

Despite all challenges during the nationwide lockdown, government agencies have procured 25,000 tonnes more wheat as compared to the total quantity procured last year, an official statement said on Monday.

The Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ministry said that though, wheat procurement commenced 15 days late in the ongoing Rabi Marketing Season 2020-21, government agencies bought 341.56 lakh tonnes of wheat against 341.31 lakh tonnes procured in the RMS 2019-20. The government has set a target of 407 lakh tonnes wheat to procure for central pool this year of which 83.92 percent has been achieved.

The biggest challenge was to ensure that procurement is done in a safe manner during the pandemic, said the Ministry in the statement.

This was achieved through a multi-pronged strategy of awareness creation, social distancing and deployment of technology. The number of purchase centres was increased substantially reducing the farmer footfalls in individual purchase centres.

In addition to the threat of spread of virus, there were three major challenges faced by the procuring agencies. As all the jute mills were closed, production of jute bags used for filling of procured wheat stopped, creating a major crisis. This was tackled by using more plastic bags, supplemented by used bags with very strict quality conditions. Through continuous monitoring and timely actions, it could be ensured that the procurement was not stopped due to lack of packaging materials anywhere in the country.

There were unseasonal rains in all the major producing states leading to wheat getting exposed to water. This posed a major threat to the farmers as such stocks could not be procured under normal specifications. The Centre and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) intervened immediately and after conducting detailed scientific analysis, specifications were re-fixed to ensure that no farmer is put to distress while making sure that the produce so procured meets the minimum quality requirements of the consumers, said the statement.

Third challenge was the tight labour supply position as well as the general fear created among the masses about the virus. This was addressed by taking a series of confidence building measures at the local level by the state administration. Labour was provided with adequate protection safety gear like masks, sanitisers etc. and other precautionary measures were also taken to ensure their safety.

With the concerted and well-coordinated efforts by the Centre and state governments, the FCI, government agencies, procurement of wheat could be undertaken very smoothly in all surplus states, helping farmers and replenishing stocks in the central pool, said the Ministry.

As on May 24, Punjab has procured the largest quantity of 125.83 lakh tonnes of wheat while Madhya Pradesh stood second with 113.37 lakh tonnes and Haryana is at the third position with 70.64 lakh tonnes of wheat. Government agencies have procured 19.14 lakh tonnes of wheat in Uttar Pradesh, the largest wheat grower in the country while 10.62 lakh tonnes of wheat has been procured in Rajasthan. Remaining quantity has been procured in Uttrakhand, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir.

The Central government has fixed Minimum Support Price of wheat at Rs 1,925/100kg for crop year 2019-20.

As per the third advance estimates released recently, India is to harvest a record output of 107.18 million tonnes of wheat in 2019-20.