With plummeting prices, the smiles on the faces of Kerala’s pineapple farmers have given way to wrinkles of worries even as the second wave of Covid has battered many upcountry consuming markets.

The euphoria of a price rise, seen a month ago, seems to have been short-lived as farmgate prices of all varieties have dropped to ₹19 per kg after ruling above ₹40. According to growers, the closing down of major upcountry markets and restrictions have hit the trade in a big way.

Ramadan demand impacted

Kerala’s GI-tagged Vazhakkulam pineapple is the most sought-after variety in many upcountry destinations and the Covid pandemic has totally impacted demand for Ramadan. Pineapple is an integral part of Ramadan fasting.

Dwindling sales have forced many growers to leave the fruit in the plant and not pluck it. Currently, there are no takers in the market as the curbs have hindered customer movement, Jaison Jose, a farmer-cum-trader in Vazhakkulam, home to Asia’s largest pineapple market, told BusinessLine.

Baby John, president, Pineapple Growers Association Keralam, put the loss at ₹100 crore from the festival season alone due to restrictions on movements. Arrivals have now dropped to an average 80 loads per day against the peak 150-200 loads. This is the second consecutive year that the sector is losing the Ramadan demand.

Labour shortage

Besides, the labour shortage is acute as a majority of the migrant workers have left for their homes with the Covid surge gripping the country. Hardly 30 per cent of workers is available. This has forced growers to hire these workers for their daily requirements. But labour wages have increased to ₹1,200 per day from ₹750-800, putting further pressure on production costs, he said.

The current situation has caused a lot of problems for the growing community, especially when they are faced with fund shortage on account of a subdued demand, besides cancellation of major functions and ceremonies, impacting pineapple consumption.

John has advised his fellow growers “to think twice before they go for new planting in this season” considering the gravity of the situation. The lease rent of farming lands has come down substantially. But it is not the right time to start new planting due to market uncertainties. The production in the April harvest has come down to 800 tonnes per day from 1,500 tonnes during the corresponding period a year ago.

Labour shortage, abandoning of the crop due to the loss in the previous year, lack of interest shown by growers to start new planting are some of the contributing factors for the declining production. He requested the government to put the ailing pineapple sector in the Covid relief scheme for extending financial assistance and also announce a moratorium on the existing loan repayments availed by growers.