BENGALURU: Karnataka was one of the first states to open up its food processing units soon after the lockdown was announced to ensure that the farmers’ produce was not wasted, Additional Chief Secretary and Development Commissioner Vandita Sharma told TNIE, while speaking about farmers’ distress. “Many government officers have been working 24/7 during the lockdown to address our agrarian and industry issues,” she said.
Speaking about the measures that the government has initiated, she said that “Karnataka being a producing state, it exports large amounts of its agricultural and horticultural produce to other states in India and also overseas. We moved very fast and made some relaxations soon after the lockdown was announced to facilitate the movement of essential goods.
The end week of March was tough to move vegetables and fruits outside the State because all inter-state and intra-state borders were closed. We had to persuade our buyer-states to allow the movement of trucks carrying fruits and vegetables. Delhi is the biggest market for pineapples from Karnataka but the Azadpur Mandi there remained closed till recently. Kerala buys large quantities of bananas and grapes but the movement of fruits was a problem. We found buyers in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa and after much persuasion, they allowed the movement of our trucks.
Meanwhile, we had set up an agri war room to address farmers’ grievances. We also opened up 75 food processing units, gave them passes so that they could function without any hurdle. We arranged for 300 mobile Hopcoms vans and requested the Resident Welfare Associations to place their bulk orders for fruits and vegetables. During the lockdown, Karnataka has exported 1,500 metric tonnes of fruits and vegetables to the Gulf countries through the Kempegowda International Airport,” she said.
When pointed out that in many districts farmers have destroyed their fruits and vegetables because of no demand, Sharma said the government gave the best available offer to farmers for their produce but in some cases they did not agree for the price. “We offered our cold storage free of cost but the response is not overwhelming as the produce is moving and the nature of crop is important; whether it can be kept in the cold storage for long,” she said. According to B Venkatesh, Director, Horticulture, Ramzan has come as a boon, especially to the melon farmers in Karnataka. Farmers are getting a better price for melons at Rs 7 to 8 a kg where earlier they barely got Rs 5 to 6 per kg, he said.
“Before the lockdown, Bengaluru alone consumed 300 tonnes of melons every day. Melons were also sold at the highways but all that stopped with the lockdown,” he said. He added that this time it was a booming harvest for farmers. “Karnataka has produced around 700 tonnes of pineapples every day between mid-March and May. We are unable to transport them to our main market in Delhi and other North Indian states because of low demand. We are trying to move 250 to 300 tonnes of pineapples within the State and have asked the farmers to defer the harvest. We have a big issue with tomatoes. Our average daily production of tomatoes is around 1,500 tonnes. Most of it comes from Kolar. We are processing around 250 tonnes of tomatoes in our units but there is a huge surplus. Chennai and Kerala are our big markets but the movement is slow,” said Venkatesh.