It’s going to be a costly Onam for Keralites this year. Food prices are likely to go up as the farmers suffered huge losses following heavy rain in State. Thousands of hectares of paddy, vegetable cultivation and banana plantations in Alappuzha, Thrissur, Palakkad and Idukki districts were inundated in rains in June and July.
Though a small player in the market for bananas during the Onam season, Ernakulam district is now facing a shortage of quality bananas ahead of the festive season. More than 800 hectares of crops, including paddy and bananas, have been submerged in Ernakulam district.
According to figures provided by the department of agriculture, nearly 5,000 farmers have lost crops worth more than Rs.25 crore during the last two months. Most of the standing crops that went under water were paddy, tapioca, bananas and vegetables.
Officers tracking the quality and price of vegetables and fruits at Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council, Kerala (VFPCK), said that 60 per cent of the supplies arriving at the Council’s 22 markets in Ernakulam were not of the best quality.
Submersion of fields, especially banana plantations in low-lying areas, have forced farmers to harvest bunches even before they are mature. About 80 per cent of banana plants in low-lying areas were totally destroyed, said an official.
The VFPCK markets notched up sales to the tune of Rs. 29 crore last year. The current year is unlikely to see such level of sales despite the high price of produces like nendran bananas, the price of which is ruling over Rs. 50 a kg (for the best quality) at the auctions.
These markets have totalled sales of just over Rs. 6 crore so far this year, of which Rs.1.18 crore is from the sales of 694 tonnes of vegetables; Rs. 4.5 crore from 2,582 tonnes of bananas and Rs. 60 lakh from 176 tonnes of pineapples.
There are 1,800 hectares of banana plantations and 1,300 hectares of vegetable cultivation under the purview of VFPCK in Ernakulam district. The average loss is around the range of 40 per cent and the situation will be sharply reflected in the market in the run up to Onam.
Palakkad district has lost around 5,000 hectares of fields that came under paddy sowing ahead of the rains in June though the first information report by the department of agriculture said that only 724 hectares of paddy had been lost.
The drought-like conditions had delayed sowing in the district and when the rains came the fields went under the floods.
The Kuttanad taluk in Alappuzha district, which witnessed extensive flooding, has lost approximately 3,000 hectares of paddy to rain waters. Breach of outer bunds has wrecked havoc in Kainakari area, where farmers have also incurred extra expenses to strengthen weak bunds.
The Nenmara belt in Palakkad, famous for extensive vegetable cultivation, comprises 10 panchayats where crops like vegetable cowpea, bitter gourd and snake gourd have been affected both by the intense dry conditions in May and the heavy rains during the following months.
The yield has shrunk to a quarter of last year’s level considering the daily volumes at the 24 markets run by farmers under VFPCK. An official of the Council said that the volume of business at these markets may have come down but the prices had ensured that turnover remained more or less at the same level as last year’s.
The official said that price of produces had gone up substantially compared to last year’s levels, helping farmers who had switched to open field precision farming.
The farmers are getting Rs. 28 a kg for snake gourds at the auctions against last year’s price of Rs. four a kg. The price of bitter gourds have gone up to Rs 35 a kg from last year’s level of Rs. 15 and the price of vegetable cowpea has gone up to Rs. 50 a kg from last year’s level of Rs. 25.