Grape growers from Karnataka, the second largest producer of grapes, have appealed to the Union government to bail them out from financial distress following crop loss due to severe drought in the last few years.
Nearly 8,000 growers of North Karnataka, who have lost their crop, have demanded that Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar announce a Vidarbha-type package, under which bank loans are waived.
The growers also sought assistance for adopting good management practices, support for rainwater harvesting and post-harvest management.
Speaking to The Hindu, Abhaykumar S. Nandrekar, president, Karnataka Grape Growers Association, said that growers have been facing severe shortage of water in eight districts — Bagalkot, Bijapur, Koppal, Belgaum, Bidar, Gulbarga, Gadag and Bellary.
The situation deteriorated in the last two years as the entire State reeled under drought. All taluks in these districts were declared drought-affected in 2012.
The crop has been raised in 15,000 hectares in the eight districts and plants in nearly 9,000 hectares have been damaged in the last two years on account of drought. “There was no rainfall after the plants were pruned,” he said.
The association members recently met Mr. Pawar and sought an urgent package to save farmers from financial distress. The proposal also sought a package for growers in Kolar and Chickballapur.
A majority of vineyards are in the drought-hit areas. The State accounts for an estimated 20 per cent of India’s grape production at 3.30 lakh tonnes. Maharashtra contributes 80 per cent of the national output. India’s grape orchards cover 1.16 lakh hectares. About 70 per cent of production in the State is converted into raisins (dry grapes).
During March-June, a few grape growers saved their orchards by watering them with the help of tankers. But after that it became difficult as it did not rain adequately, he said.
“There is a limit on how much a farmer can water the orchards through tankers. Unlike in Maharashtra, we do not get funds from the government for watering orchards with water tankers. The Maharashtra government grants Rs. 60,000 per hectare for watering the plants though tankers,” he said. Nearly 90 per cent of growers have borrowed loans from nationalised and cooperative banks and they have been brought under the non-performing assets head. As much as 70 per cent of the loans have turned into doubtful assets. The total amount (both principal and interest) runs into nearly Rs. 600 crore, he said.
Growers would struggle to survive, and retain their crops, if the Union and State governments do not waive their loans, he said.