On a day dedicated to them, farmers in Kerala are counting losses in two months of unusually heavy rains accompanied by spiralling cost of labour and fertilisers.
Farmers still claim the take-home from farming is peanuts.
P.S. Anas, who is Karimaloor panchayat’s best farmer (mixed crop category), said farming was still not remunerative.
His claim might seem at odds with the prices of bananas and vegetables that have shot through the roof of markets following the rains. The best of bananas (nendran) fetch more than Rs. 50 a kg for farmers. Vegetable cow pea of even inferior quality fetches what a farmer commands.
But Mr. Anas challenged the belief that farmers were laughing all the way to the bank despite losses from the rains. He said the upswing in prices will hold only for about two months a year. Rest of the months, prices are on a slide, he said.
M.O. Paul Manjali, adjudged the best rice farmer in Parakkadavu panchayat, said the rains were disastrous, especially for banana farmers. His little paddy holding has weathered the rains well, he said, but sympathised with his counterparts in the district who were brought to the knees.
He has something to cheer about after losing a large swathe of banana cultivation to flooding of low-lying areas close to the Chalakkudy river. The ‘Vella Ponmani’ variety of rice, brought from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, has held up against the rains in upland fields. The yield was upwards of six tonnes a hectare, he said, pointing out that the figures were better than the previous two seasons.
Shortage and cost of fertilisers are also working against farmers. Award-winning farmer A. P. Venugopal from Kunnukara panchayat said fertilizer prices would break the back of farmers like him. Scarcity of complex fertilizers like Factamfos was driving the farmers to buy inferior quality products from private companies, he said.
A winner of several State awards, including the Haritha Mithra Award in 2006, Mr. Venugopal is not ready to give up yet. He has 12 acres, some of it on lease, under crops like bananas and vegetables. He said farmers who have quality produces this season were fetching remunerative prices.
P. V. Zachariah in Koovappady panchayat has suffered extensive losses this season. “I lost around 5,000 banana plants to rain,” he said on Friday as he pointed out how inadequate the compensation was for the farmers during a season of distress like this one.
He said fertilizer prices were going up. “There is no control at all on the price of organic fertilizers like bone meal,” he said to highlight the fact that bone meal price had gone upover the last eight months.
Farmers like him are also at the receiving end of a system of poor compensation for their losses. Though he lost about 6,000 banana plants last season, he was compensated for only 375 plants at Rs 10 per plant by the National and State Horticulture Mission.
However, famers are a patient lot. Mr. Zachariah, for example, has set about replacing the old and broken plants with new ones in his rain-ravaged plots.