COVID-19 lockdown puts banana growers and traders in severe distress

A van carrying a load of banana on the EB Road in Tiruchi on Thursday.

A van carrying a load of banana on the EB Road in Tiruchi on Thursday.   | Photo Credit: M_SRINATH

For banana growers in Tiruchi and Karur districts, a major banana growing belt, the COVID-19 pandemic could not have come at a worse time. With the crop in harvest stage, transporting plantains to markets has become a problem due to police restrictions on movement of goods vehicles consequent to the imposition of prohibitory orders to contain the spread of the virus.

Banana growers, who were already reeling under a sharp drop in nendran variety for the second consecutive year, are now complaining that police were not allowing empty goods vehicles to head to fields to load the harvested crop. With the banana raised in thousands of acres in Tiruchi-Karur districts, a major banana growing belt in the State, coming to harvest now, farmers fear that they might suffer heavy losses if the plantain were not harvested within a week. Nendran, Elarasi, Poovan and Karpooravalli are some of the popular varieties raised here.

Banana, they insist, should also be included in the list of essential commodities. Traders too place a similar demand as they are unable to find buyers in view of the closure of fruit stalls across the State.

N.V. Arumugam, a banana grower and trader of Lalgudi in Tiruchi district, says that he is unsure of harvesting the crop in time as he has been struggling to find goods vehicles to transport the produce to markets locally or in far places such as Kerala or Karnataka. His banana crop raised on about 50 acres is ready for harvest and so are bunches in another 50 acres which he had bought as trader.

“Police allow vehicles loaded with banana to proceed, but stop empty vehicles heading to the fields to load the fruits,” he says. According to him, empty vehicles are stopped at check posts at No.1 Tollgate and Karur By-pass Road. “We hire goods vehicles mostly from Pettavaithalai or Perugamani and the vehicles have to pass through the check posts to reach our fields,” he points out.

Pointing out that a large number of farmers are at their wits end, he hopes that the district administration or the government will intervene quickly to save them from heavy losses. “If my crop is not harvested in another week’s time, I stand to suffer a loss of ₹40 lakh,” says Mr.Arumugam.

Farmers of the region can ill afford to suffer such major losses as they have sustained severe losses over the past few years and were hoping for a good harvest this season. The government should relax the norms in the interest of farmers to allow goods vehicles load banana from fields, said N.Veerasekaran, coordinator, Ayyan Vaical Pasanatharar Sangam.

Ayilai Sivasuriyan, district secretary, Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, also complained that goods vehicles transporting banana to Kerala are being stopped at Tamil Nadu check posts. “While transport of banana is being allowed in Kerala, it is unfair that the police stop our vehicles. The police say banana is not on the essential commodities list or seek a letter from the respective Collectors in original to allow the consignments,” Mr. Sivasuriyan alleged.

He pointed out that banana was a perishable commodity and claimed that farmers would suffer a loss of up to ₹2 lakh an acre if their produce was not marketed in time. “It has put the farmers in severe distress and the administration should allow loading, unloading and transport of banana without restriction,” Mr.Sivasuriyan demanded.

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Open fruit shops

Wholesale traders at the Vazhakkai mandi at the Gandhi Market in Tiruchi too are in distress as there are not many takers for even the restricted arrivals at the mandi. Though the mandi is officially closed till March 31, about 2,000 bunches of banana are still being brought in here by farmers to be sold every day. “But very few buyers are coming in and we are not able to sell even the 2,000 bunches we are getting now against the normal average arrival of 25,000 bunches a day,” says K.P. Palanivel, president, Plantain Merchants’ Association, Gandhi Market.

Mr. Palanivel attributes the poor off take to the closure of fruit shops as they are not treated as essential commodities. “We depend heavily on buyers from neighbouring towns and districts. As fruit shops aren’t allowed to open, there are no buyers. Along with farmers we traders too are in distress,” he said appealing to the government to allow opening of fruit shops as they were essential to maintain good health and build immunity.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 2:37:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Tiruchirapalli/covid-19-lockdown-puts-banana-growers-and-traders-in-severe-distress/article31174849.ece

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