Double blow for Wayanad ryots

When K. Baiju, 30, a marginal farmer in Karapuzha, planted ginger on two acres of rented land at Ambalavayal in Wayanad about a year ago, he only intended to repay the loans he had taken for culture.

Usually, ginger growers start harvesting at the end of May, as they get a better price for the product when the monsoon arrives. But the farmer was forced to harvest the crop two days ago due to financial difficulties and the crop was again a huge loss.

The low farm gate price was the bad guy this time. “I received ₹850 for a bag (60 kg) of ginger compared to ₹2,300 per bag during the last year period,” says Baiju. He spent around ₹8 lakh on cultivation but could not recover even a fraction after harvest.

    The low price leaves ginger growers in distress.  Workers filling ginger into bags at Ambalavayal in Wayanad.

The low price leaves ginger growers in distress. Workers filling ginger into bags at Ambalavayal in Wayanad.

“The farming community has been hit by the double whammy of soaring prices for basic necessities and low prices for agricultural products,” he says.

He had taken out a personal loan of ₹2.5 lakh from a financial institution five years ago, pledging his 1.5 acres to replant pepper. The plants were destroyed in the 2018 floods.

Rising fuel prices are reflected in the price of fertilizers, especially muriate of potash (MoP) and phosphate fertilizers, says Prasanth Rajesh, president of the Wayanad Coffee Growers Association.

The MoP price at Wayanad on Thursday was ₹1,700 per bag (50kg) compared to ₹800 in the corresponding period last year. Coffee growers apply three to four bags of MoP to an acre per year because it stimulates early growth, increases leaf area and influences robusta bean size.

“Transportation costs have also increased significantly. Usually I give ₹700 for a tractor to transport the fertilizer from the stores to my plantation. Now they charge ₹1,050. The price of phosphate fertilizers has also increased from ₹470 per bag to ₹700 now,” says Mr. Rajesh.

But the price of coffee beans has not increased proportionally to that of inputs. The price of coffee beans was ₹99 per kg from ₹87 in mid-March. But most farmers did not benefit from the increase because they had sold the produce to renew their loans from financial institutions, he said.

The sharp drop in agricultural commodity prices, especially short-term crops such as ginger, cassava and plantain after the COVID-19 outbreak, has put pressure on the farming community and rising commodity prices base has pushed farmers into an acute crisis, says N. Sudhakara Swamy, organizer, Haritha Sena, a farmers’ organization in Wayanad.

Various diseases affecting black pepper had forced many farmers to turn to growing ginger and plantain for their survival. But they have suffered huge losses due to recurrent floods and the pandemic outbreak, he says.

The situation for tea and areca growers is no different. Over 90% of the areca palms were destroyed after the spread of yellow leaf disease and bud rot. Tea growers are currently receiving ₹12.10 per kg of raw leaves compared to ₹17.29 per kg in the corresponding period last year, Mr. Swamy says.

Thousands of farmers in the district are facing agricultural loan relief under the Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Securities Interest Enforcement (SARFAESI) Act during the crisis, he says .

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