IDUKKI: It seems cabbage farmers in Kanthalloor have taken a leaf out of the farmers’ books in Pune and Nasik, who left a bulk of the tomato yield to rot due to a glut in the market. For, they are now feeding the produce to cows and letting a lion’s share to rot in farms due to an oversupply in the markets which has led to a 97 per cent drop in prices.
In Keezhanthoor, a village that comes under the Kanthalloor panchayat, a glut is evident in the farms as cabbages remain unpicked for weeks leaving farmers at the mercy of middlemen buying at throwaway prices.
Slump in demand
“We haven’t received at least 1 per cent of orders we received last year for cabbage,” O S Rajendran, the manthriyar (village chief) of Keezhanthoor and a farmer, told Express. “The bulk in production from Ootty and Kodaikanal, where the crop is cultivated on all seasons, is playing a major role behind falling exports of cabbages. We usually sell our produce to traders from Tamil Nadu. However, this season, they are hesitant to procure it from us due to the oversupply from these regions,” he said.
Middlemen are cashing in on the situation while offering to help desperate farmers clear their farms of cabbage. “A trader who visited my farm a day ago, offered to procure it for Rs 3 per kg, which cannot meet at least my expense involved in cultivating the crops,” Rajendran said.
While the same is sold at Rs 30 to Rs 40 in the high range areas of Idukki, it is quite pathetic the farmers in Kanthalloor are facing a grave situation. According to farmers, cabbages should fetch at least `15 a kilogram, to meet their expenses.
According to the market sources, every season Kanthalloor harvests around 20,000 kg of cabbage. The farmers in Kanthalloor have been cultivating vegetable here for centuries and it is their only source of living.
According to Sivakumar, who has been farming cabbage for the past 15 years, this has been his worst season. He blamed the problem on the lack of a cold storage facility for farmers to store their produce. “Even though a cold storage was started by the government 10 years ago at Munnar, it is presently not functioning. Just as a body must be cremated and cannot be brought back home, so must farm produce be sold. We cannot return from the market unless the crops are being sold or else we will have to abandon it on the wayside,” he said.
Even as the government had set up two vegetable collection agencies - Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council, Keralam (VFPCK) and Horticorp - to procure vegetables from the farmers, agriculturists from this area had stopped supplying vegetables to these agencies due to their failure to procure and pay on time.
“Even as the agencies started procuring it based on the agreement to procure veggies during each harvest, in practice the veggies are procured during Onam season only. We have stopped supplying vegetables to Horticorp and VFPCK,” Sivakumar said.
He said because of this, the farmers were forced to sell vegetables to businessmen from Tamil Nadu who decide the prices on the spot, which ultimately led to the present crisis. Hence, the farmers here are unable to repay the loans they took during the sowing season, either from individuals or from co-operative banks.
“If there is an agency to procure vegetables throughout the harvesting season and the farmers are given a remunerative price, the exploitation can be countered,” he said. The farmers here plead for an immediate government intervention to arrest the price fall and to help them from the agrarian crisis.