Vazhakulam Pineapple, the GI-tagged fruit, which catapulted to global fame the otherwise diminishing agricultural dominance of Kerala, is facing the brunt of the Covid-19 crisis.
Farmers, who carry out farming on leased lands with bank loans, are facing the biggest crisis with supply chains closed and crops going waste. They have sought emergency relief packages from both the central and state governments to tide over the crisis.
James George, President, All Kerala Pineapple Farmers Association, said that farmers on an average spend ₹6.25 lakh per hectare every year, harvesting around five lakh tonns of pineapple. Most of the big timers are farming on leased land, mainly amidst rubber plantations. When the prices were hovering around ₹39-45 per kg during March-April 2019, farmers took more land on lease for farming.
However, the prices tanked to around ₹10 per kg on an average due to delivery issues, while the cost of production was at least ₹25 per kg. There was high demand for the fruit in Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Chennai, in addition to the surge in demand during Ramadan, when at least 2,000 tonnes are harvested every day. This year, this peak season for pineapple was shattered by the Covid-19 pandemic, as most north Indian markets were closed and cargoes were not moving at all, he said.
With daily losses estimated at around ₹5 crore since March 2020, the total losses would add up to ₹300 crore. Given the situation, the association has asked the government to write off the interest on loans and restructure all existing loans without interest for up to two years.
Currently, the minimum procurement price offered by the government is ₹15, which would be hiked to ₹25 in proportion to the cost of production. A subsidy of ₹10 per kg for the fruit, which was produced during this season, has also been sought.
The association also highlighted the crisis looming on the labour front, as pineapple farming is a labour-intensive activity, generating around 170 days of employment per year on an acre of land. The departure of migrant workers back to their home states in big numbers has badly affected pineapple harvesting and processing.
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