Depleting groundwater and pest attacks add to their woes

Mirchi crop leaves Akkineni Vishnu, a farmer from this upland village under Lingapalem mandal of West Godavari district, with a bitter taste in the mouth this year.

He raised the crop in 10 acres against all odds. Neelam cyclone, depleting ground water, virulence of pest attacks and the resultant drop in yield, and price crash seemed to have aimed against him. “I have invested over Rs 1.10 lakh per acre on mirchi cultivation. I am quite likely to end up with a negative balance, given the depressing price scenario,” he lamented. The price per quintal is hovering around Rs 7,000 in the mirchi market at Guntur this year even as it was priced at Rs. 8,000 three years ago.

Labour charges take a major slice in the cost of mirchi cultivation. Mr. Vishnu spent a whopping Rs 70,000 on labour for raising nurseries, harvesting, grading and packing of the produce while Rs. 40,000 went for manures and pesticides per acre. The mirchi cultivation, a highly labour intensive crop, draws farm hands in large numbers in auto rickshaws to this village from far off places such as Visannapet in Krishna district, Vatluru, Kothuru and Chintalapudi in West Godavari district.

Drop in exports

The price crash is attributed to a drop in exports. The produce finds markets in the US, China and the European Union nations. “ I want to wait and watch without resorting to distress sales by preserving the produce in cold storage plants in Vijayawada”, Mr. Vishnu said. The storage cost in the plants has also gone up from Rs.100 to Rs.145 per bag this year on account of poor quality in power supply. It is not the case for most of the growers who could not afford to wait for a better price. Some of them dispose off their produce in the local market at Jangareddygudem while the rest resort to retail trading for households. Mirchi raised in Pallantla under Devarapalli mandal is in great demand for preparation of pickles for which it draws customers from far-flung places like Palacole in the district. Some varieties raised in parts of the district are preferred to be used as dry chilli powder. Taja, a particular variety of mirchi, is considered to have a good export value while badiga and sungro are popular for their pungency.