The granary of India, Punjab, has lived up to the expectations of the nation on all parameters. Procuring the annual wheat grains during lockdown and Covid pandemic was no child’s play but once again the state succeeded in sustaining the nation’s food security in these critical times by procuring 127.67 LMT of wheat in 45 days. The state’s agricultural and trade ecosystem created a defining moment that will go down in history as a renaissance in agricultural procurement and networking.
The COVID outbreak in India came mere weeks before the Rabi crop, wheat, was set to be harvested. The shortage of labour was a big concern and the procurement of wheat even more challenging! A look at the extraordinary measures taken by the Punjab government for wheat procurement during these testing times –
- Increasing Purchase centres to ensure lesser footfall per centre and social distancing – Punjab govt increased the number of purchase centres from 1820 to 4006, thus spreading the procurement operations across a larger number of mandis that limited the farmer footfall in a mandi and ensured that farmers travelled the least distance from their villages.
- Procurement by Invitation – This new concept was introduced by issuing mandi and date specific ‘Arthiya Kissan Passes’through software. A total of 17.51 lakh such passes were generated and distributed that ensured staggered and uniform arrival of wheat in the mandis.
- Setting up wheat procurement control room– Wheat procurement control room was set up at the PMB office at SAS Nagar, with a 30 member team, dedicating one line and an operator to each of the 22 districts. The control room was operational from 7am to 8 pm daily.
- Helpline numbers and public awareness campaigns – Strong digital communication laid the foundation of the success of this campaign. Helpline numbers were set up in each district of the State and promoted through traditional media. Public awareness and promotion of the helpline facility was handled through print and digital media.
- Hygienic procurement – Regular sanitization of mandis was done and optimum supply of masks, sanitizers, soaps and water was ensured at all mandis.
The entire process spelled success in terms of timely payments done to farmers, mostly within mandated 48 hours of lifting. 100% of the offered wheat was procured by Govt. procurement agencies (99.6%) and the remaining by private agencies (0.40%). Not just this, the entire procurement exercise infused about INR 27,000 cr into the state economy.
Lessons for other states in ensuring timely and safe procurement of wheat while maintaining social distancing and community health –
- Ensuring return of harvesters: At the time of the lockdown, a large number of combine harvesters were operating in other states, and got stuck there due to the lockdown. Department of Agriculture worked proactively to facilitate the return of these harvesters to Punjab. For this purpose, a dedicated group of officers was constituted in the department, headed by the Joint Director. A Helpline was also set up for this purpose.
- Success of COVA App for tracking: Detailed guidelines were issued to ensure tracking, screening and supervision of all combine harvesters operating in Punjab. It was ensured that they all download and use COVA APP.
- Accommodation outside villages: Combine operators and workers were instructed to ensure that they stay and live in fields outside the village and follow Covid-19 prevention guidelines of maintaining social distancing, wearing masks and washing/ sanitizing hands.
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