COVID-19 lockdown impacts banana farmers of Madurai district

Banana farmers are facing economic distress following the lockdown   | Photo Credit: S. James

For banana growers in Madurai district, the COVID-19 pandemic could not have come at a worse time. While the crop is ready for harvesting at farmlands across the district, the dip in demand for plantains and banana leaves due to the lockdown and the restrictions in transporting them to the markets, have caused severe distress to farmers and traders.

An official from the Horticulture Department says that every year the crop is raised on 2,500 hectares in the district. Out of this, around 200 hectares were ready for harvesting over the past month. However, only a few hectares of crops were harvested and bananas sold across the markets, the official said.

R. Ramesh, a farmer from Koothiyarkundu, says that since the announcement of the lockdown, most of the retail shops, fruit stalls and hotels have closed down, resulting in a lower demand for bananas. In the absence of grand functions and marriages, the demand for banana leaves have also come down drastically. “As a result, even the commission agents are not procuring our produce. Even though the crops I raised on two acres are ready for harvest, I haven’t proceeded, as there are no buyers,” he says. He also adds that it is also common to find that at many farms, even fully mature crops are left unharvested and left to wilt.

V. Azhagan, a farmer from Vadakku Valayapatti in Melur block, says that he has spent around ₹80,000 for raising bananas on a one-acre field. “Because of the current crisis, I am unable to even recover the money that I had spent on cultivation. Most of us have borrowed from local money-lenders and it is going to be highly challenging to repay the interest and the loan amount,” he says.

Adding to the set of problems is the restricted hours of functioning of the Smart Fruit Market at Mattuthavani, which has made it difficult to operate banana ripening-chambers, says M. Sadu Kani, joint-secretary of Madurai Fruit Commission Traders’ Association. “The market is allowed to function only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Hence, we are unable to ripen the crop and undertake sales,” he says.

One way to tackle the crisis, would be to encourage farmers to directly sell their produce to customers, rather than depending upon the commission agents, says N. Manikandan, a farmer from Thuvariman. “Also, bananas can be included as part of the ‘fruit bags’ sold by Madurai Corporation. Adding five bananas in each bag, can also help in addressing the issue to an extent,” he says.

Concurring with this viewpoint, Deputy Director (Horticulture) G.O. Poopathi says that the department will provide emergency passes for banana farmers to facilitate the sale of the produce at markets. The Corporation has allocated around 35 spots across the city for makeshift markets. So, farmers can work together and sell their produce at the markets. We are also ready to guide the farmers at places where they can sell their produce,” he says.

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 12:27:21 PM |

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