Onion prices have crashed in Maharashtra and potato prices have spiralled downwards in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and some other states. Such a glut in production forces farmers to destroy their crops or sell at unviable prices. Would the now-repealed farm laws have helped? And is there a solution to the demand-supply issue?
Onion prices have crashed in Maharashtra. Potato prices have spiralled downwards in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and some other states. The crashing of onion and potato prices has once again highlighted the plight of Indian farmers who are compelled to destroy their crops. Would the farm laws introduced in 2020, and repealed a year later after farmers' protest, have helped?
The glut of onion, potato, tomato and other vegetables has become a regular phenomenon in India. Due to abundant production, onion prices crashed and farmers in Maharashtra have either been compelled to sell the onions at Rs 1 per kg or throw them on roads.
The woes of potato producers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are no different from Maharashtra's onion growers.
The rate of table potatoes has crashed between 60 to 76 per cent this year. Against the wholesale price of Rs 10 per kg last year, farmers in Punjab were struggling to get even Rs 4 per kg this year.
As per the potato growers from Haryana, the cost of growing one kg potato is between Rs 7 to Rs 8. In a situation like this, they avoid harvesting and transporting their produce to the market. In many cases, the farmers either destroy their crop in the fields or delay the harvest.
Well known Food Policy Analyst Devinder Sharma calls it a 'farm bloodbath'.
In Maharashtra, an increase in Kharif onion acreage has resulted in nearly 20 per cent productivity, which is responsible for a glut.
The shelf life of kharif onions is also smaller compared to Rabi onions. Kharif onions are required to be sold within seven to eight days and rabi onions have a shelf life of up to six months.
The unusual rise in temperatures across North-West India in February 2023 is also responsible for early crop maturity this year. The rising temperatures have also resulted in the early maturity of potato and cauliflower crops in North India.
‘REPEALED FARM LAWS COULD HAVE SAVED FARMERS’
Professor Rakesh Singh, Department of Agriculture-Economics, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at the Benaras Hindu University (BHU) believes that the three farm laws brought by the government in 2020 could have reformed the market. But the laws were repealed by the government in 2021 following massive protests by the farmers.
“The main objective of those laws was to increase the number of buyers in the market. If the Farmers’ Act had not been repealed, then the buyers like processors, exporters, hotel associations would have increased in the market and the market prices of onions and potatoes would not have fallen as much as they have fallen today”, says Singh.
The professor pointed out that if the Farmers’ Act still remained in force, more buyers would have been found.
The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (Nafed) has entered the market, and the fall in onion rates will stop. “New crops will come in March-April and after harvesting Ravi crops, onion prices may go down further, but due to government intervention, it is expected that onion prices will not come down further”, says Singh.
HOW TO STOP FARM BLOODBATH?
Whenever there is a crash in the prices of crops, the farmers reduce the acreage during the next season. This results in a shortfall of the crop and therefore, increases the demand. The conducive environment and increasing the demand again encourages farmers to grow the crops in large quantities, which results in a glut.
So what is the way out? Agriculture experts say that strengthening cold storage chains, fruit and vegetable processing, market intervention and Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana can save the farmers from a farm bloodbath.
"If Operation Flood scheme can solve the volatile milk prices issue, it could help the fruit and vegetable growers as well. Market intervention and price differential schemes, food processing and strengthening the cold storage facilities can help the farmers when prices crash," said Devinder Sharma.
EXPORT TO PAKISTAN
Meanwhile, Punjab farmers and some politicians are in favour of exporting tomatoes, potatoes and wheat to Pakistan where the wheat price per quintal was Rs 4,200. The onion and potato prices in Pakistan were between Rs 400 to 500 per kg. The farmers can get remunerative prices if the curbs are lifted.