The harvest that hurt
No transport to take their produce for auction, relying on neighbouring villages to compensate for the loss, and disposing of several crops to rot — farmers of south India share tales of...
Published: 02nd June 2020 06:54 AM | Last Updated: 02nd June 2020 06:54 AM | A+A A-
CHENNAI : The bulls huff loudly as Ramana Ravi loads another sack of vegetables onto his cart. He had 13 sacks of produce weighing 1,000 kg. Only five of them — carrying brinjals, bottle gourds, bitter gourds and pumpkins — were his; others were from villagers who had sought his help to move the vegetables to the nearest Agriculture Product Market Committee centre, 80 km away. From his seven-acre farm in Sullurpeta, Andhra Pradesh, it’d take Ramana five hours to get to the centre.
Despite the trouble, Ramana — being the only one with a bullock cart in the vicinity — is forced to make the journey. Since the lockdown, many farmers in Sullurpeta have lost access to cargo vehicles that usually do the job. The companies that run the vehicles do not have enough drivers willing to venture long distances. Although there are no restrictions on the transport of agricultural products across state borders, traders are sending fewer vehicles to remote villages to pick up harvests and drop it off at the trading centres.
With the end of the harvest season approaching, small-scale farmers find their stockpile growing bigger with every passing day, and left without a convenient way to sell it. Yet, not all of them have it that bad, it seems. “Most traders around Coimbatore are now focused on procuring rice, toor dal, onions, turmeric and potatoes because these are in high demand. Earlier, the traders would send vehicles to take our harvests to the specific trading centres. Now, only farmers raising these in-demand crops get the vehicle,” says Nandamani S, a farmer in Malumichampatti.
While the transport of the produce poses enough challenges, selling/auctioning them comes with problems of its own. “Many of us who have larger fields go to the APMC mandi to auction our produce. Some approach traders who auction the harvest of a group of farmers, adding to the volume. Others auction their products independently or sell directly to private buyers,” says Chelva Murthy, owner of around 20 acres of farming land in Somanahalli, Karnataka. Since the nationwide lockdown has had the government working towards ensuring food supply to the population under its care, not all agriculture produce get the same amount of attention, it seems.
Food crops like rice, wheat and pulses, along with essential horticulture crops like onions, brinjals, ginger, garlic, turmeric and potatoes, stand a far better chance of being picked up. These are long lasting and fast moving; it can also be stored under any condition. It can be moved over long distances without fear of the produce going bad. “Hence, the government procures most of the harvest that arrives at the auction centres. Government ration centres and private traders buying for retail outlets are the big players during a crisis like this one. Since they buy it at a price that is less than or equal to the minimum support price (MSP), there has been a significant drop in the auction rates of other perishable produce,” explains S Ranganathaswamy, a rice and onion trader at the APMC centre in Vallam, Thanjavur.
Left with fewer viable options, farmers find themselves facing worst-case scenarios. Many have been forced to leave the harvest to rot in the fields or burn it. Udumalai K, owner of a 42-acre vegetable farm near Thoothukudi, where he grows chillies, okra and brinjal, lost nearly 20 per cent of his produce to rot. Another farmer, Panchavarnam, who owns a five-acre farm near Ariyallur faced a similar fate. “I planted Chayote (chow-chow) at the beginning of this year in anticipation that it will sell well in the market. No one could predict that coronavirus would completely ruin things.
Around 35 per cent of the vegetables turned yellow and withered. No trader was interested in auctioning the crop and eventually I had to burn it. The rest I managed to sell in the nearby villages,” he says, adding, “We have had to dispose of the harvested crops that have begun rotting.”Others too are following suit, just to compensate for the loss in business. However, this has barely fetched them half the usual income, and they are having to spend more than usual on transport and stalls.
Cashew farmers near Karaikal have been facing hard days. Gopalkrishna, with 56 acres of cashew orchards to his name, points out that cashew trees provide a yield only once a year. This year, unfortunately, the demand for it has been very less. “Even if I were to go to the APMC centre, it would get sold for a fraction of the usual price. There are few buyers and the government (being the largest bidder) isn’t buying cashews like it is buying rice,” he explains.
Many farmers have started to give away a part of the harvest to the money lenders, instead of the monthly dues. Then, it’s up to the money lender to push the produce at the auction centre. Farmers across the southern states have taken their problems up to the associations they belong to. Perhaps, relief will come soon.
In his nine-acre farm, Nandamani cultivates garlic. While his has reaped a good harvest, he has not been able to sell any because of the problems in the supply chain.