There is a beehive of activities in the main vegetable market at Koviloor in the lone complete vegetable growing village here.
The Onam market is also the end of the prime harvesting season for the vegetables here. Truck loads of carrots, potatoes, beetroots cabbages and various beans varieties reach the market both on horse back and carried by rough terrain vehicles.
Though there is a marked improvement in the arrival for Onam season with traders from Tamil Nadu and the Horticorp directly taking the produce from the farmers, there is high fluctuation in the prices on each day depending on the availability of the item. The prices have improved during the Onam season, but only slightly as only a fraction of it directly reach the Kerala market from here.
This is reflected in the words of the farmers living on the farming areas down the main market. "The prices are not bad as compared to the last season. However, there is a considerable drop in the total production, says Vasudevan, a farmer.
In this season we got a harvest only half of the quantity received in the last season, he said adding that the unfavourable weather conditions and the continuous rainfall resulted in the stagnant growth. He said that the summer rains also damaged crops nearly on 200 acres of land in addition to vegetables decayed in the water-logged farms.
The price of garlic, which is grown only in Vattavada and Kanthallur villages in the State, is around Rs 100. But the arrival dropped go below one-tenth of the last season,according to the traders. The reason: The price that reached the rock-bottom during the last seasons was Rs 10 per kilogram.
The main problem the farmers face here is the high fluctuation in the prices with no minimum price fixed for the vegetables."There is no outside factors that determine the prices here, says P.Palanivel, another farmer, adding that the local arrival of each produce decides the prices as traders from Tamil Nadu mainly decide them often forming a cartel.
"When truck loads of a particular vegetables item reaches the market, the traders is tend to lower the prices as its demand drops,'' says G.Mohanadas, the vice president of the Vattavada grama panchayat. The farmers tend to cultivate the crop that lead the prices in the current season without considering for its over production that may result in very low prices in the coming harvesting season, he says. It was what happened to the garlic in the last season.
During this season, we could not apply fertilisers in time due to heavy rains - which also resulted in the production drop, says M.N.Palaniswami. The main vegetable growing areas are Vattavada, Kottakambur and Pazhathottam.
The period of growth for each variety of vegetables is different If it is 90 days for potatoes it needed 120 days for cabbages, he says. There is no estimate of the total production of the cool season vegetables as it is absorbed by different traders. Mr Mohanadas said that the marketing intervention by the Horticorp helped in providing reasonable prvce to the farmers. Even then the major chunk of the production goes to the main market of Madurai where the produces from here has to compete with better-shaped and large sized vegetables arriving from other states. The small sized garlic and traditionally cultivated tubers are of better quality with least application of chemical pesticides. But they are finding it difficult to get competitive prices at the main market in Madurai.
If the Horticorp directly procure all the vegetables grown here and marketed in the State it will be of immense help to both to the farmers and the consumers as it is of better quality, says Mr Mohanadas. . According to him, there is a considerable drop in the areas cultivated by vegetables in Vattavada. It dropped from 3,800 acres to 1, 700 acres now, says Mr Moghanadas adding that as many as 350 families from the village migrated to Tamil Nadu in the recent times. Farmers are finding it difficult to proceed with vegetable cultivation, the only main engagement in the village.
The main problem is lack of water and the change in climate condition, he says and added that what needed immediately is the completion of four check dams allotted under the Idukki packag. It will improve the irrigation facilities as the climate change ghad affected vegetable cultivation. If the areas are brought back to the traditional cultivation, the village could produce the entire vegetables needed in the State, he says adding that for it a long term plan is needed.
According to Palanisami the crops reaching the market are daily transported as there is no facility to store them. It is the main reason for farmers falling to vagaries of price flatuations. The Vegetables and Fruit Promotion Council, Kerala is closed office building near the main market here reminds one of a long procurement plan for Vattavada vegetables that did not materialize so far. The quality of Vattavada vegetables are far better though the prices received by the farmers are far below. The hybrid varieties are yet to reach here - a need for protecting the farmers here.