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Free Lunches Are Actually Free For Farmers in Gajapati

2015 batch IAS officer Lingraj Panda has launched ‘Farmers’ Canteens’ in the district. Farmers who come from far-off places to sell their produce in the district can have free food in the canteens. Food is prepared by women self-help groups who are paid accordingly.
Indian Masterminds Stories

Paddy procurement by the government is often a contentious issue with farmers across the country. Their produce is often rejected on some or the other pretext and perforce they sell it to private traders at much lower rates. However, paddy farmers in the Gajapati district at the Paralakhemundi Regulated Market Committee (RMC), have a different story to tell. 

Due to the untiring efforts of District Collector Lingraj Panda, government procurement of paddy has surpassed past years. The district’s aim was set at 56119.4 metric tons of paddy and 37600 metric tons of rice for the 2021–22 Kharif season from 12742 registered farmers. 

 FARMERS’ CANTEEN

For the first time, free farmer canteens have been established near paddy procurement centres in Odisha to provide lunch to farmers who bring their produce from faraway villages. The canteens have been established in the Gajapati district, with at least four such canteens opening in Paralakhemundi, Kashinagar, Upalada, and Garabandh.

The project brings an innovative change that also provides the farmers with encouragement, to make the farming sector more lucrative by way of incentivisation. The arrangement for free lunch for farmers is done at the primary agriculture cooperative societies (PACS).

“We have launched the canteen system to provide free lunch to farmers who come to the procurement centres with their produce and cannot return home for their meal,” Mr. Panda stated in an exclusive conversation with Indian Masterminds.

 EMPLOYMENT

When the Odisha Government launched the Mission Shakti Scheme with the goal of uplifting women in the state, where women are encouraged to participate in socio-economic activities with the assistance of Women Self Help Groups or WSHGs, the Gajapati district made significant efforts to include them in the paddy procurement process.

Four Women SHG groups across the four blocks of the district are taking part in the activity. The members of the Women Self Help Groups are appointed to prepare nutritious and healthy vegetarian meals for the farmers, served to them in the canteens.

According to the Secretary of RMC, Mr. L Raghu Babu, the women’s self-help groups in the region are being paid Rs. 60 per meal prepared by them, through the RMC. “We collect the tokens from farmers and ask the self-help groups to prepare meals accordingly,” he said. In addition to meals, farmers are also being provided free soft drinks and clean drinking water at the procurement centres by the RMC.

NOVEL PROJECT

Today, eight farmers’ canteens have been opened in the Gajapati district where over 2000 farmers have been fed until now. According to Prafulla Kumar Behera, the civil supply officer, RMC is bearing the entire expenditure to run these canteens.

“The objective of the programme is that farmers should not face problems when they visit the mandis with their produce. We have plans to open at least 10 to 15 such canteens in the district in the coming days,” Mr. Panda told Indian Masterminds.

At present, there are 66 mandis in the Gajapati district to procure paddy from 14,320 farmers who have registered willingly to supply their products. As many as 21 WSHGs have also been engaged in the paddy procurement activity.


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