Rajvir Singh Golta sold 52 quintals of narma/kapas (raw un-ginned cotton) over three pickings from his five-acre land in Jhumba village of Punjab’s Bathinda district. He got the full minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 5,665 per quintal for his medium-long staple fibre crop that was procured by the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) between early-October and mid-December.
The 42-year-old is pleased that the CCI entered the market on time at the season’s start when narma rates were Rs 4,600-4,800/quintal. That’s a view also echoed by Nirmal Singh Tiwana, a farmer from the same village who sold 21 quintals of the crop, grown on two out of his four-acre holding, to the CCI at the Centre’s MSP.
And it is not just cotton. Government agencies have procured an all-time high 202.78 lakh tonnes of paddy from Punjab at the MSP of Rs 1,988/quintal for 2020-21.
Yet Golta and Tiwana are part of the ongoing farmer agitation against the Centre’s three farm laws. “I received the MSP this time, but not in the previous years, when CCI people would enter only after we had sold at below MSP to private traders. This agitation is to ensure that we are paid MSP every year and our crop is procured on time,” said Golta, back after spending three days at the Tikri protest site on the Delhi-Haryana border.
According to Tiwana, who has been organising supplies for the langar (community kitchen) at Tikri, CCI was active this season only “because of our protests”. The government, he said, basically wanted to “show” that there’s nothing wrong with its farm laws.
Cotton arrivals in North-West India begin from late-September. Out of Punjab’s estimated kapas crop of 52.50 lakh quintals this time, about 32.50 lakh quintals had been marketed till December-end. The CCI purchased 27.5 lakh quintals (almost 85 per cent) of that.
In Haryana, which is expected to produce 125 lakh quintals, the state-owned corporation has procured 52.73 lakh quintals of the 85 lakh quintals that have arrived so far. Even in Rajasthan, where 85.55 lakh quintals of the overall 135 lakh quintals crop has been marketed, the CCI has procured nearly two-thirds of the arrivals in the main Ganganagar cotton belt.
These large-scale and timely purchases by CCI have not only helped small growers like Golta and Tiwana realise the MSP, but have also led to open market prices rising above the MSP.
Private traders and ginners are currently buying medium-long staple kapas (26.5-27 mm fibre length) from the Bathinda market at Rs 5,800/quintal, as against the official MSP of Rs 5,665. Even long-staple varieties (27.5-28.5 mm), with a higher MSP of Rs 5,725/quintal, are trading at Rs 5,900-5,950.
“Prices going above the MSP will only benefit farmers with larger holdings. But I don’t mind that. For me, what matters is getting an assured price at the time of bringing my crop to the mandi immediately after harvesting. MSP is necessary for farmers who have no capacity to hold on to their crop and wait for prices to go up. We need money to run our kitchen and sow the next crop,” Golta said.
An official of the CCI at Bathinda told The Indian Express: “We have made record purchases this season. In fact, we have stopped buying in the past 10-12 days. There’s no need when prices are ruling above MSP. Small and marginal farmers have anyway sold their crop to us.”
The firming up of prices is being attributed to increased export demand, especially from China. The US Department of Agriculture has projected its cotton imports to surge from 15.54 lakh tonnes in 2019-20 (August-July) to 22.86 lakh tonnes this year. The global benchmark ‘Cotlook A index’ price is now at 88.1 cents per pound, up from 79.5 cents a year ago and the sub-60 levels of early-April at the peak of the Covid-19 crisis.
Manmeet Singh, who farms five acres at Ganga village of Bathinda’s Nathana tehsil, was paid the MSP for his 53 quintals of kapas procured by CCI. But he, too, has been making to and fro trips to the Tikri border. “The Modi government’s farm laws will lead to mandis shutting down and the government stopping whatever little procurement it is doing today. It will leave us completely at the mercy of private traders and corporates,” he claimed.