Crop loss owing to pest attacks has hit farmers hard

The Karnataka government has sought Central assistance for a revival package for pomegranate growers.

Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs T.B. Jayachandra has urged Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar to consider the State’s request.

A large number of pomegranate growers in the State are in distress as they are unable to repay loans obtained from commercial banks and cooperative institutions. While a section of them have given up farming, many have shifted to other horticultural crops. According to statistics available with the government, 8,729 pomegranate growers are unable to repay loans.

Mr. Jayachandra, in whose Assembly constituency of Sira in Tumkur district pomegranate is cultivated in a big way, told The Hindu that the total loan outstanding of the farmers to nationalised and cooperative banks was around Rs. 206 crore and every effort would be made to waive loans obtained by them.

“We are aware that the losses have largely been due to pest attacks. Pomegranate growers are looking forward for a special package and the State government will do its best to support them.”

Pomegranate growers are demanding that Karnataka follow the revival scheme implemented in Maharashtra, which tops in pomegranate production in the country. The revival package in that State has been covered under the Vidarbha package of the Union government wherein loans obtained by growers along with the interest due thereon is stated to have been totally waived. Further, assistance is being provided to growers for adopting good management practices and support is being provided for post-harvest management (supply of crates, boxes etc. required for packaging and transport) and for implementing rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation systems.

A large number of farmers in at least seven districts of Karnataka — Bijapur, Gulbarga, Chitradurga, Tumkur, Koppal, Bellary and Bagalkot — switched over to horticultural crops, particularly pomegranate, over the past decade owing to its high export potential and promotional schemes enunciated under the National Horticulture Mission. This was, however, short lived following a string of pest attacks (blight), which resulted in a large number of them incurring huge losses.

Pomegranate is grown in the dry regions of the State and new varieties such as Ganesh, Mridula (Arakta), Ruby and Bhagwa (Kesar) have revolutionised cultivation as they have good export potential. Hitherto, farmers in most of the pomegranate growing districts, particularly Bijapur, Bagalkot and Koppal, successfully exported the fruit.

Mr. Jayachandra said diseases such as bacterial blight and pomegranate wilt have had a deleterious effect on the crop in the northern districts of the State, although intervention in providing subsidies to farmers, creating infrastructure facilities for production, post-harvest management and marketing and research support etc. have gone a long way in developing pomegranate crops in the dry areas and enabling farmers to get better returns. Farmers have been proactive in adopting new technology for cultivation and post-harvest handling of pomegranate. Karnataka is the second largest producer of pomegranate in the country (nearly 50,000 tonnes), and the area under pomegranate is estimated to be 13,000 hectares. The State can double the production if pest attacks are brought under control and incentives are provided to growers.

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