When K. Baiju, 30, a marginal farmer at Karapuzha, planted ginger on two acres of rented land at Ambalavayal in Wayanad around a year ago, he only intended to repay the loans he had taken for the cultivation.
Usually, ginger farmers begin harvesting by the end of May as they get a better price for the produce at the advent of monsoon. But the farmer was forced to harvest the crop two days ago owing to financial stress and the cultivation was again a huge loss.
Low farm-gate price was the villain this time. “I got ₹ 850 for a bag (60 kg) of ginger as against ₹ 2,300 a bag during the period last year,” says Baiju. He spent about ₹ 8 lakh on cultivation but could not recoup even a fraction after the harvest.
Low price leaves ginger farmers in distress. Workers filling ginger in bags at Ambalavayal in Wayanad.
“The farming community has been hit by the double whammy of soaring price of essentials and low prices for farm produces,” he says.
He had taken a personal loan of ₹ 2.5 lakh from a financial institution five years ago pledging his 1.5 acres for replanting pepper. The plants were destroyed in the 2018 floods.
The hike in fuel prices is reflected in the price of fertilizers, especially in that of muriate of potash (MoP) and phosphate fertilizers, says Prasanth Rajesh, president, Wayanad Coffee Growers Association.
The price of MoP in Wayanad on Thursday was ₹ 1,700 a bag (50 kg) as against ₹ 800 during the corresponding period last year. Coffee farmers apply three to four bags of MoP on an acre a year as it stimulates early growth, increases leaf area, and influences robusta bean size.
“The freight charge has also increased considerably. Usually, I give 700 for a tractor to carry the fertilizer from shops to my plantation. Now they are charging ₹ 1,050. The price of phosphate fertilizer has also increased from ₹ 470 a bag to ₹ 700 now, ”says Mr. Rajesh.
But the price of coffee beans has not increased in proportion with that of the inputs. The price of coffee beans was ₹ 99 a kg as against ₹ 87 in the middle of March. But most of the farmers did not benefit from the hike as they had sold the produce to renew their loans in financial institutions, he says.
The sharp fall in prices of farm produces, especially short-term crops such as ginger, cassava, and plantain after the COVID-19 outbreak, has put the farm community under stress and the rising prices of essential commodities has pushed farmers into an acute crisis. , says N. Sudhakara Swamy, convener, Haritha Sena, a farmer organization in Wayanad.
Various diseases affecting black pepper had compelled many farmers to turn to ginger and plantain cultivation for survival. But they have suffered huge losses owing to the recurring floods and the pandemic outbreak, he says.
The situation of tea and areca farmers is not different. Over 90% of areca palms were destroyed after the spread of yellow leaf disease and bud rot. The tea farmers are getting ₹ 12.10 a kg for raw leaves now as against ₹ 17.29 a kg during the corresponding period last year, says Mr. Swamy.
Thousands of farmers in the district are facing recovery measures against farm loans under the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Securities Interest (SARFAESI) Act during the crisis, he says.