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In pictures: Gherkin farming in Karnataka

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Fertility, of the edaphic kind, has long been a boon for riparian communities, but farmers, whose land is irrigated by the Tungabhadra, in Central Karnataka, also have other considerations to take into account to ensure the yield from their furrowed fields is satisfactory at the time of harvest - international geopolitics.

The region, which has witnessed a boom of sorts, has taken to the cultivation of gherkins in a big way, and political unrest, currency fluctuations, and other factors far divorced from the reality of agrarian distress - migration, debt, and failed borewells - have taken precedence in the list of reasons that make farmers in Karnataka furrow their brows in exasperation.

Pickled gherkin, which is used as a condiment finds a place in most dining rooms in the West, and enjoys popularity, comparable with pepper. Casual conversation with farmers in rural Bagepalli, Karnataka, as Mohit M. Rao found out, will eventually veer towards the Goods and Service Tax, which has shrunk their working capital, the international outrage over Russian military aggression, to even the weather in Vietnam.

Karnataka’s gherkins are exported the world over, with the crop being grown in 20 of the 30 districts in the state. The depreciation of the rouble following sanctions to punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea in 2014, led to a winter of discontent for farmers in Karnataka. Russians, who are known to favour the gherkin, tightened their purse strings, resulting in a lull in demand for the prickly vegetable, causing prices to tank.

However, the gherkin revolution has, also had a positive impact on the community, with many escaping the noose of poverty owing to the bulk orders for the crop which come from big companies who in turn export their produce to far-flung countries. While the crop is enjoying something of a boom in Karnataka, farmers are refusing to get disillusioned with their luck, as the United States, a big market for gherkins, has started importing from Mexico and Vietnam, where labour cost is on par with that in India.

The precocious life cycle of the gherkin makes it a demanding task for farmers to harvest their crop on time, since if they dally by even a day, the crop becomes unviable and won’t meet the strict quality control norms for the export market. Here is a slideshow documenting the travails of gherkin farmers, and how the export-driven boom brought overnight prosperity to thousands in Karnataka’s agricultural belt.

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