Giji K. Raman

Farmers, self-help groups in Idukki district affected

The price of a kilogram of banana traded on Friday and Saturday was between Rs.7 and Rs.8

Thousands of hectares of land is under plantain cultivation in low-lying areas in Idukki

KATTAPPANA: The fall in the prices of banana has hit the farmers in the district who had cultivated plantain crops in large areas including paddy fields. According to the data available with various Swayasraya Karshaka Vipani (SKV) in the district, the price of a kilogram of banana traded on Friday and Saturday was between Rs.7 and Rs.8, the lowest in the recent past.

The fall in the price of big banana variety, ‘nenthran’, has affected the farmers who had turned to plantain cultivation in the wake of failure in cash crops like pepper and coffee, said Monichan of Santhigram Swayasraya Karshaka Vipani near here.

The banana varieties like ‘nenthran’, ‘njalipoovan’ and ‘palayankodan’ are being traded in large quantities in the district followed by bitter gaurd, beans items tapioca and various vegetables. The self-help groups also cultivate plantain cultivation in large areas of land taken on lease.

According to Mr. Monichan, the price of a kilogram of ‘nenthran’ was Rs.22 in June. The prices plunged to Rs.15 during the Onam season and now have reached the present level. “Only a few farmers benefited when the price rose and those who replanted the area are facing a crisis with large quantities of banana glutting the market,” said an SKV official.

The total production has increased in the district at a time when the production in Tamil Nadu also has increased. “There is only a minute difference between the prices of small varieties and ‘nenthran’, which requires more care” said Mr Monichan. Thousands of hectares of land is under plantain cultivation in low-lying areas in the district.

Farmers spent Rs.5 for a seed and there is a considerable increase in the prices of fertilizers and pesticides, said Thomas George, a farmer at Thankamany. The non-availability of fertilizers during the time prescribed for its application and vast damages in rains, winds and landslides have already hit the farmers. At least 12 months are required for the full plantain growth and the farmers get a profit only when the price rise above Rs.80 for a bunch of ‘nenthrakaya’, says Thomas.

According to Mr. George who has nearly three acres under ‘nenthraka’ cultivation, farmers get only Rs.60 for a bunch, that means they suffer a lose of Rs.20 in every bunch. An official of Santhigram SKV says the subsidy of Rs.3 given to the farmer for a plantain is too meagre an amount as the labour charge and fertilisers’ prices have increased manifold in the recent past.

According to him, it is natural that the prices of banana fall in the rainy season. “However, we are using banana only as a fruit item. The ‘nenthraka’ variety can be used for making chips and making value-added products and the marketing avenues to be elicited outside the State to save the farmers,” he said.

Though, ‘nenthraka’ was till a few years back the monopoly of the State, now it is being largely cultivated in Tamil Nadu. Mr. George said that the banana cultivation in the district is dependent on monsoon and farmers suffer loss in the form of natural calamities unlike in Tamil Nadu, where it is cultivated in the irrigated land.

Only through a concerted effort, including product diversification that the thousands of banana farmers in the district can be saved from the present crisis, he said.