Procurement of wheat by government agencies surpassed last year's figure of 341.31 lakh tonnes to touch 341.56 lakh tonnes on May 24, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution said on Monday.
Wheat harvesting generally starts towards March-end and procurement starts in the first week of April. However, with the imposition of COVID-19 national lockdown from March 25, all operations came to a standstill.
The crop was ready for harvesting. The government gave relaxation to start agricultural and related activities during the lockdown period and procurement could start from April 15. Haryana started little late on April 20.
The biggest challenge was to ensure that procurement is done in a safe manner during the pandemic. 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, it said.
New centres were set up using every facility available at gram panchayat level and the numbers were increased sharply in the major procuring states like Punjab where it went up from 1,836 to 3681, 599 to 1,800 in Haryana and from 3,545 to 4,494 in Madhya Pradesh.
Using technology, farmers were provided specific dates and slots to bring their produce which helped in avoiding overcrowding. Strict social distancing norms were followed and sanitisation activities were undertaken regularly.
In Punjab, every farmer was allotted specific spaces earmarked for the dumping of stocks and no one else was allowed to enter those areas. Only people who were directly associated were allowed to be present during daily auctions.
In addition to the threat of spreading the virus, there were three major challenges faced by the procuring agencies in wheat procurement. As all jute mills were closed, production of jute bags used for filling of procured wheat stopped.
This was tackled by using more plastic bags, supplemented by used bags with 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, it added.
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 government and Food Corporation of India (FCI) intervened. 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.
The 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 gears like masks and sanitisers.
With concerted and well-coordinated efforts by the government, FCI, state governments and their agencies, procurement of wheat could be undertaken smoothly in all surplus states, helping farmers and replenishing stocks in the central pool. (ANI)