I live in Mohali in Punjab.
The next day I went to the local flour mill. I asked the owner whether I would be able to get wheat atta from Madhya Pradesh wheat. The man at the counter nodded his head. I got a 10-Kg package priced at Rs 32/Kg, a lot higher than what I would have paid for the normal wheat. Atta from Punjab's wheat is sold at Rs 23/kg.
This wheat is not from the fields of Punjab, the food granary. The Sharbati variety comes from Madhya Pradesh.(Pic from web)
To get an idea as to what percentage of his customers were having a liking for MP wheat, I asked him if he could tell me if there are any more buyers for the expensive MP atta. He smiled, and replied: "Well, roughly 60 per cent of my customers buy MP atta from me. Also, a number of those who bring wheat grains for milling also carry MP wheat." I came back and thought of doing a random sample check. I asked a dozen of my neighbours and friends as to what kind of atta they consume at home. At least ten of them responded saying they were eating MP atta.
I don't have the statistics to tell you how much of wheat from Madhya Pradesh is being imported into Punjab, but what I know for sure is that traders are importing a large quantity of wheat at a much higher price -- anything between Rs 2,600 to Rs 3,100 per quintal. Local wheat from Punjab is available at Rs 1,400 per quintal. Besides, the local flour mills, MP wheat atta -- which is actually from a desi sharbati variety is being marketed by a number of companies
What makes the general preference for Madhya Pradesh wheat is that it is chemical free. According to a report in India Today (way back in Oct 15, 2007. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/
Grown mainly in eight districts spread across three agro-climatic zones, the wheat has slowly carved a niche for itself because of its shine, big grain size and a reputation for its flour producing the tastiest rotis by far. And the formula has been perfected through a combination of traditional practices and some unique soil and climatic condition."
What about the wheat farmers? Don't they prefer the MP wheat? Do they not know that chemical fertilisers and pesticides are harmful for their health? Well, they have always known this. I remember when I was reporting for the Indian Express way back in the 1980s from Chandigarh, I had seen many Punjab farmers keeping a separate patch of land in one corner of their crop field for growing wheat for their home consumption. To this plot, they would not add any chemicals.
Whatever the scientists might say, not only farmers, the common people too have begun the realise the importance of chemical free foods. With health problems accentuating in the recent past, the trend is increasingly towards safe food. Over the years, the preference and intake for non-chemical farm produce is growing, and growing at a phenomenal pace. Interestingly, not all of them are banking on organic certification. The wheat that is being imported from MP for instance comes with no certificate. It is only through goodwill and faith that people are willing to pay a higher price for what they are told is a better quality produce.
This brings me to a related question of grain wastage. Every year, we witness huge stocks of wheat lying in the open for want of storage. Much of it rots. A significant proportion of the stored grains are also rendered unfit for human consumption. Wouldn't it therefore make economic sense for the Punjab (and also for Haryana) governments to encourage farmers to grow wheat without chemicals to cater to the local needs in both the agriculturally frontline States? This will not only reduce the burden of storing monumental wheat stocks but also make the environment safe? At the same time, the reduction in health expenses alone for the people as a result of this shift in production systems and the accompanying thrust on encouraging safe food consumption would be too economical.
If Punjab government can provide a subsidy of Rs 4,000 per acre for the paddy farmers to shift to cotton cultivation, I wonder why a similar subsidy cannot be provided to wheat farmers to shift from chemical farming to non-chemical farming? This will have multiple advantages -- for the producers, consumers and for the environment. #