ONGOLE: Chilli farmers in Prakasam district are staring at huge financial losses with the 21-day lockdown in force to stop the spread of COVID-19 as most of the crops await harvesting. Around 50,000 farmers had cultivated chilli in and around 1.25 lakh acres in the district and above 90 per cent of them are yet to harvest their crop. Across the district chilli farmers are facing labour, transport and market related problems as this is the peak season for harvesting their crop.
Except in a few mandals of the district, in majority of the mandals chilli crop has been cultivated. In Addanki, Parchur, Santhanuthalapadu, Yaddanapudi, Naguluppalapadu, Inkollu, Maddipadu, Jarugumilli, J Panguluru, Markapur, Giddaluru, Yerragondapalem, Kondepi, Valetivaripalem, Ponnaluru area farmers have cultivated chilli collectively in large extent of land and most of them individually belong to micro- small and tenant farmers category with an extent of a few yards to below 5 acres cultivation area.
Earlier this year, chilli had very good demand in the market and got high price with around Rs 24,000 per quintal. But, later in the January, sudden rains damaged the crop and quality of the yield dropped and so the price also decreased. Now, chilli merchants are offering around `8,000 to 10,000 per quintal to the farmers. To cultivate chilli, it may cost around `1.5 lakh for every farmer and if things go well throughout the season, they may get around `2 to 3 lakh as income.
But, with the sudden lockdown being implemented, majority of the Prakasam district chilli farmers are facing serious financial crisis as their yield has remained in their fields or at mirchi yards. And, for March and April, they were expecting good income, but now due to the lockdown, harvesting works are stalled.
“Chilli cultivation requires lot of labour work and labour on daily wages is engaged to harvest the crop and for other processing works.
But now, no worker is allowed to enter the field. Though the Chief Minister directed the authorities to allow agriculture labour to work in the fields with due arrangements for social distancing and other procedures, local authorities and police are not allowing workers to work in the field. Even workers are also not coming forward to work as they also have fear of contracting COVID-19. In fact, this is the peak time for us to harvest and transport the product to the nearby market yards for sales. But due to the lockdown, all these have become impossible for us,” a chilli farmer D Murali from K Bitragunta village in Jarugumilli mandal told TNIE.
Prakasam Zilla Rythu Sangham also appealed the district authorities and the State government to provide some relaxation from the lockdown to the chilli farmers as they were in need of agriculture labour in big numbers and transport facility to send their produce to the nearby mirchi yards.