Financiers want them to repay loans taken to grow crops

Farmers who raised pomegranate orchards with the urging of the Horticulture Department are in dire straits with financial institutions issuing legal notices on default of loans.

The legal notices have come as farmers have not been able to repay loans following failure of pomegranate crops since 2008 due to bacterial blight that has wiped out a large number of plantations in 13 pomegranate growing districts of the State.

“We began cultivating pomegranate in 2004 as the State government encouraged us to do so. However, the government has not responded to our problems now, though several attempts have been made to raise the issue with it and its elected representatives,” R. Abdul Nayeem, president, Pomegranate Growers’ Association, told The Hindu.

No cultivation now

Most of the farmers, who raised loans to finance pomegranate orchards, have now stopped growing the crop, and are unable to repay the loans, he said.

Incidentally, in 2011, the Horticulture Department recommended loan waiver for pomegranate farmers.

According to Mr. Nayeem, legal notices were being issued by financial institutions even as the farmers have been urging the government for the last two years to waive their loans. “If the institutions start impounding our properties, we have nowhere to go,” he said and added that about 50,000 pomegranate farmers have been hit across the State.

According to estimates, the department has identified 10,550 hectares (or about 80 per cent) of the 13,100 hectares under pomegranate cultivation in the State, to be blight-affected. While the average output was about 1.38 lakh tonnes a year, the production has dropped to about 80,000 tonnes in the last six years following the blight attack.

With no help from the research institutions to overcome the blight, the Horticulture Department, which in the early part of 2000 promoted the crop, has been requesting farmers not to raise further plantations.

Farmers’ woes

Harish Varnekar of Gajendragad in Gadag district is among the very few pomegranate farmers left in the area. He has been asked by his bank to repay Rs. 19 lakh on a loan of Rs. 5 lakh that he availed himself of in 2006 to raise the crop on his 10-acre farm.

“I got a fairly good crop in 2008 after I raised the plantation in 2006. However, the blight attack forced me to remove half the plants,” he said and added that even the fruit that he gets now is of poor quality.

Farmers, according to Mr. Varnekar, get a farm gate price of Rs. 250 to Rs. 300 per box of 10 kg of average quality fruits. “But a kilogram of pomegranate in Bangalore at retail stores is upwards of Rs. 120. Farmers are getting a pittance,” he said.

Similar tales were expressed by Lokappa Rathod and Shashidhar Hoogar who have also received legal notices from banks. These two farmers have stopped pomegranate cultivation, and are growing traditional crops such as maize and jowar now.

More In: Karnataka | National