Effective State intervention sought
Garlic prices are scalding household budgets. But farmers at Vattavada and Kanthallur in Idukki have a different story to tell. The open market price is around Rs. 60 a kg, but they sell it at about Rs. 30.
Last season, they price they got was as low as Rs. 15 a kg. Many had shifted from cultivation of garlic to other vegetables at Kanthallur, the main garlic-producing village in the State.
“It is the closing season for garlic here and we expected the price to increase, but it remains at a low now. Compared with the last season, it is not so bad,” S. Maheendaran, a farmer in the village, says. The main problems are unstable prices and varying offers from middlemen.
Mr. Maheendaran says the main market for garlic is at Vadukapatty, near Theni, in Tamil Nadu, where it is auctioned at prices that depend on quality and arrivals.
The farmers who had given garlic to the Mettupalayam market, expecting a better price last time, had to sell it at a very low price.
Mohandas, another farmer, says the garlic from Vattavada and Kanthallur is sold at low prices in auctions as the produce is of small size, though of better quality. At Kanthallur, around 80 hectares are under garlic cultivation, and at Vattavada, less than that.
Mr. Mohandas says farmers, last season, cultivated large area with garlic as the previous season fetched good prices.
More than the low price level, the main issue is high fluctuations in the prices offered in auctions and by middlemen who directly purchase the produce.
The bigger Chinese variety of garlic is in demand at auctions, and the prices offered from the two villages are not competitive, Mr. Maheendran says.
Farmers usually cultivate both Mettupalayam and Singapore varieties. The Mettupalayam variety can be harvested in three months, while the Singapore variety needs more time.
The main areas where garlic is cultivated at Kanthallur are Puthoor, Perumala, Keezhanthur and Grihanathapuram.
The farmers seek an effective marketing intervention by the government to ensure a steady price. The pickle industry prefers garlic from the two villages, and the supply has to be streamlined, they say.
During the sowing season, almost all farmers take loans from cooperative banks and other sources, even moneylenders. When the prices fall, they are helpless without storage facilities to wait for better prices.