Despite bumper crop, horticulture farmers in Andhra stare at huge losses
“As plenty of water was available like never before in our drought-prone region, I went for banana crop in 11 acres, investing Rs 15-20 lakh.
VIJAYAWADA: Good rains and sufficient groundwater in the last six months were conducive for horticulture crops in Andhra Pradesh, particularly in Rayalaseema region, and farmers cultivated crops such as banana, water and muskmelon, sweet orange, mango in large tracts. However, the farmers who were happy to see the back of drought in districts like Anantapur and Kadapa, are now disappointed as they have another setback due to COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown across the country.
“As plenty of water was available like never before in our drought-prone region, I went for banana crop in 11 acres, investing Rs 15-20 lakh. I was ready to engage farmhands to harvest the crop, but now not a single farmhand is ready to come for work. They are afraid of contracting coronavirus and we cannot say anything. Further, even if we harvest the crop, where should we sell it? There is no demand, as there are no markets across the country and even retail markets have been shut,” rued B Ramana Reddy of Dadithota village in Tadimarri mandal of Anantapur district.
N Amarnath Reddy of the same village said that they do not wish the situation they are facing even to their worst enemy. “We cultivated bananas and today, our hopes got dashed. I invested `12 lakh and I am not sure even if I could recover `1 lakh, leave alone any profit,” he said. Like Ramana Reddy and Amarnath Reddy, there are several horticulture farmers in Anantapur, Kadapa, to some extent in Kurnool, and some parts of Krishan, Guntur and West Godavari districts.
Banana production in Andhra Pradesh during Rabi season is expected to be around 27 lakh metric tonnes. In all, 70 per cent of the banana is exported to other States, with Delhi, Lucknow and other cities in the Northern States being the main markets. However, with COVID-19 lockdown, almost all the markets are now closed and even the retail sales are affected. “On our part, to minimise the losses of horticulture farmers, the State government has procured 80,000 metrict tonnes and will continue to do so in the coming days,” said Chiranjeevi Chowdary, Horticulture Commissioner.
According to him, the State government has started procuring bananas from the farmers through SHGS, MEPMA, Rythu Bazaars and also opened local markets. Meanwhile, farmers who cultivated crops like watermelon, muskmelon and mango are also a worried lot. “We have sleepless nights now, thinking about the melon crop in my three acres of land. Due to lack of farmhands, I have not harvested the crop and now with no market, I am looking at losses to the tune of `1.5 lakh. I took loans to the tune of `1 lakh and now I might not be in a position to repay,” rued Gowtham, a farmer in Nutimadugu village of Kambadur mandal in Anantapur district.
Subhadra and her husband BV Ramana Reddy of KN Palyam of Tadimarri mandal of Anantapur district, who cultivated sweet orange in their 15 acres by investing around `9 lakh this year, are crestfallen, with fruit drop due to high velocity winds during the last two days. “This time, we have bumper crop due to availability of water. We were on verge of harvesting, but due to coronavirus and resulting lockdown, we are staring at losses to the tune of `40 lakh,” the couple said. Officials are also making efforts to rope in corporate companies like Reliance, Mahindra and Mahindra, INI Private Limited, Desai Fruits and Vegetables and Big Basket to bail out the horticulture farmers.
In fact, INI Farms Pvt Ltd, Desai Fruits and Vegetables Pvt Ltd and Reliance are directly procuring about 500 MTs of banana everyday at ` 5,000-6,000/ MTs. Mahindra & Mahindra Group will also start procurement in a couple of days. Big Basket is already procuring fruits and vegetables in Anantapur, the Horticulture Commissioner said. The flower growers who cultivated Jasmine in Krishna and Guntur district have suffered huge losses. There is no market for the produce and as it is a perishable product, the government is also helpless. With temples and other religious institutions closed and no functions (marriage engagements and others), the demand for flowers has hit rock bottom, severely impacting the flower growers.
Arrival of mango, which is predominantly grown in Krishna and parts of West Godavari district, are expected in the markets between April 15 and 20. The Horticulture department has been in negotiations with the corporate companies and Lawrencedale Agro Processing India (LEAF) has already started buying mangoes from AP. “We have requested the company to scale up the volume,” Chowdary said. The price of mango is stable and is anywhere between `15,000 to `40,000 per tonne, depending on quality.
“We hope the mangoes will be moved without any delay and the situation will get back to normal in the country soon. Else, we will be in quandary and the situation of mango growers will be pitiful,” said Anjibabu. He is more worried about the unseasonal rains and high-velocity winds.
In Chittoor district, where mango is also cultivated in large scale, mostly pulp variety, the fruit is transported to food processing units and officials say the situation is under control. In Kurnool, where the Banganapalle mango is grown, farmers are praying for the normalcy to return at the earliest so that they do not suffer losses.
Agri crops fare better
Compared to horticulture crops, the situation of agriculture crops such as paddy, maize, bengal gram, cultivated during Rabi season, is better. “Paddy and maize are not perishable products, hence they can be harvested and stored for selling the same at a later date,” said Special Commissioner for Agriculture H Arun Kumar.
Paddy was cultivated in 8,04,219 hectares and the expected yield is 59 lakh metric tonnes and maize was cultivated in 1,78,018 hectares and the expected yield is 15.6 lakh metric tonnes. In all, 47.56% of paddy and 58.36% of maize have been harvested. Around 1,400 paddy procurement centres have been opened and Makfed has opened 130 centres to procure maize.
Farmers who cultivated crops like watermelon, muskmelon and mango are also a worried lot due to unavailability of markets
State govt has started procuring bananas from the farmers and opened local markets
It also roped in corporate firms like Reliance, Big basket to procure fruits and vegetables from farmers
Flower growers suffered losses due to dip in demand as temples are closed
Mango farmers are praying for the normalcy to return at the earliest so that they do not suffer losses