KOCHI: The two-month-long lockdown has taught farmers in Vattavada, the vegetable bowl of Kerala, to turn challenges into opportunities. With no customer or middleman visiting the hills, a farmers’ collective in Vattavada has been reaching out to the residents associations in Kochi for the past one month. While the city residence get fresh fruits delivered at their doorstep, the farmers get better income by avoiding middlemen.
And the result has been encouraging. As fresh strawberries, plums and passion fruits became a hit among the customers, the farmers are struggling to meet the growing demand. “We have been delivering fruits to residents associations at Tripunithura, Kakkanad, Thevara and Kaloor for the past one month. Fruits like strawberry and plums are highly perishable and we bring it to the city in a car. The response has been overwhelming and we are struggling to meet the demand,” said Abraham Jose, a farmer.
“The strawberry is harvested every three days and I get a yield of around 25kg. There are 10 farmers in our group and we deliver around 100kg of strawberry in one trip. We have now started collecting the produce from 13 tribal farmers to meet the demand,” he said. According to Abraham, the fuel expense for a single trip itself comes to Rs 3,000. “Though travelling to Kochi is taxing, we are happy that our produce is not getting wasted,” he said.
Kanthalloor finds going tough
Unlike Vattavada farmers, fruit cultivators in Kanthalloor, another hamlet in Munnar, are finding the going tough. Tonnes of blackberries, strawberries, plums and other exotic fruits are rotting in the orchards for want of buyers. “Lockdown has hit has hard,” said M M Abbas, one of the owners of Winter Green Farm at Kanthalloor.
“The climate here is apt for the cultivation of these seasonal fruits. Plums are harvested from May-end to June-end,” said Abbas. He said Kanthalloor produces around 25 to 50 tonne of fruit. “And they have to be harvested within 21 to 25 days,” he added. According to C T Kuruvilla, who has a 200-acre farm and over 150 plum trees, past three years have been bad. “I have a lot of different types of fruit trees and I am finding it hard to get buyers. It is disheartening to see that agriculture department and the Horticorp have no idea about how to go about helping us,” he said.
Unable to find customers for strawberry, some farmers have turned to making extract which has a better shelf life. “It’s been a tough year so far. I cultivate on leased land. But this season, tonnes of strawberries got spoilt for lack of buyers. I still have more than a tonne of strawberries, over 500kg of cabbages and a tonne of tomatoes in the field unharvested,” said Shelju Subramaniam. The farmers are looking to the state government to help them claw out of deep trough. “Establishing food processing factories with facilities like dryers and deep freezers to transport the fruits from the farms to the markets will help us a lot,” said Abbas. “Fixing a reasonable procurement price is essential. The current price of `50 per kg is not beneficial for plum farmers,” he added.