Agri Business

Losses due to Covid crisis claim life of a pineapple farmer in Kerala

V Sajeev Kumar Kochi | Updated on August 24, 2020

Pineapple being sold at rock bottom prices on the road side   -  Nagara Gopal@thehindu

Covid-19 can devastate families in more ways than by just its debilitating effect on health. A farmer in Kerala allgedly took his own life after losing money on his pineapple crop as a fall out of the pandemic.

Anil, a 45-year-old pineapple farmer from Muvattupuzha, took the extreme step when his liabilities mounted up to ₹50 lakh due to price drop and a subdued market demand from the upcountry markets following the lockdown.

Anil has been cultivating pineapple for the last 30 years on leased land. He had taken a huge loan from the bank to grow pineapple this year. But the virus outbreak spoiled his plans at the harvest time— there were no buyers and the crop rotted.

A social media message of Anil posted by his son Abhijit said that he had lost all his earnings and was neck-deep in debt. Suicide was the only solution.

James George, president of All Kerala Pineapple Farmers Association, said Vazhakulam region, known for its GI-tagged tropical fruit, will see more such drastic auctions unless both the central and state governments intervene with urgent remedial measures.

The Vazhakulam belt -- one of the largest pineapple producing regions in the country – produces around 5.4 lakh tonnes every year from nearly 18,000 hectares. Of these, a major share would be of leased lands and farmers heavily depend on banks and other institutional loans for farming.

The average turnover was ₹1,250 crore and more than 5,000 farmers are dependent on pineapple farming. The cost of production is estimated at about ₹6.25 lakh per hectare, he said.

The Covid pandemic situation led to prices plummeting to around ₹2.50-5 per kg, while the cost of production was around ₹23-24 per kg. All these have culminated into a tragic situation putting most of the farmers’ in debt traps, George said.

The loan exposure would amount up to ₹450 crore and not a single farmer would be able to repay the loans, according to George. “We urge the governments to initiate steps to write off loans of creditors with good track record, restructure remaining loans, streamline corporate CSR funds to support the sector, issue a minimum support price of ₹25 per kg and revival of industrial units on war-footing for value addition of the fruit”, George added.

According to Baby John, president of Pineapple Growers Association Keralam, the farm gate price has come down to ₹10 per kg compared to ₹40 last year. The sector could not derive the full potential of the summer and the Ramadaan season, which is considered to be the peak demand period in the major consuming markets due to lockdown.

Today, the production is very minimal at around 200 tonnes per day against 1,000-1,500 tonnes a year ago, he said adding, that the exodus of migrant labour from Kerala has also affected the sector, which is experiencing an acute labour shortage.

George also suggested an Agricultural Debt Relief Scheme for the sector with powers to the adjudicating forum to write off the liabilities including principal amounts and it should be binding on all categories of financiers who advanced loans on Kisan cash credit facilities for pineapple farming.

He urged the government to entrust agencies like Micro Credit Innovations Department or Nabard with cost effective loans to continue the activities till the market is revived in a sustainable manner.

Published on August 24, 2020

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