Tobacco farmers threaten to stall auctions from Monday

Traders’ wait-and-watch approach is giving sleepless nights to growers

Published - April 21, 2021 11:31 pm IST - ONGOLE

The pandemic-induced market correction is giving tobacco farmers the jitters in Ongole.

The pandemic-induced market correction is giving tobacco farmers the jitters in Ongole.

Tobacco farmers have decided to serve an ultimatum on the traders that they will stall the auctions in all the 11 auction platforms from Monday if there is no marked improvement in the market price for their produce.

Thanks to rising COVID-19 cases and uncertain demand for the produce in the global markets, the exporters are adopting a wait-and-watch attitude, giving farmers sleepless nights as they carry the bitter experience of the pandemic disrupting trading for over one month during the last marketing season.

Auctioning of tobacco, the principal commercial crop in the drought-prone areas of Nellore and Prakasam districts, had begun on an optimistic in the middle of March after a delay of about a month, especially on the platforms coming under the Southern Light Soil (SLS) region.

‘Nivar’ havoc

‘Nivar’ cyclonic storm had played spoilsport during the early phase of rabi cropping season, forcing the farmers to go for gap-filling and re-plantation in the farms that had witnessed extensive damage, delaying plucking of leaves and curing.

The bright grade varieties had initially attracted buyers at ₹180 per kg against ₹210 per kg expected by the growers as they fetched a price of up to ₹250 per kg in the neighbouring Karnataka.

After a month, the market started to go southwards, inducing a correction of ₹10 to ₹30 per kg depending upon the variety of tobacco offered by the growers.

The exporters, who are unsure of the global demand in the wake the second wave of coronavirus, have kept away from the market on the pretext of lack of confirmed orders.

“We were hoping to recoup the losses incurred last year as the virus-induced lockdown coincided with the peak marketing season, as the bright grade varieties accounted for a majority of the crop this year. But our hopes are dashed in the wake of the market going southwards,” YSRCP farmers’ wing Prakasam district president Mareddy Subba Reddy said, and sought the immediate intervention of the Tobacco Board.

“We will not hesitate to stall the auction from next week if the market continues to remain lacklustre,” Mr. V.V. Prasad, Farmers’ Welfare Association leader in Ongole II auction platform, told The Hindu .

The farmers are in jitters as the authorities mulled imposing local restrictions in the red zones once again. Traders are trying to knock away with our produce offering low prices, taking advantage of COVID-19 health situation, according to a group of farmers in D.C. Palli.

“We have no option but to stall auctions in the absence of concrete steps by the Union and State governments to revive market buoyancy,” said Vellampalli II Tobacco Growers’ Association president N. Chimpriya.

With only a couple of cigarette manufacturers active in the market, the medium grade varieties of tobacco had seen a steep correction of late, explained Southern Black Soil (SBS) Farmers’ Association leader P. Bhadri Reddy.

Market intervention

The Centre should ask the State Trading Corporation to enter the market, the farmer leaders demanded, adding that the State government should also press into service MARKFED as was done last year to bail them out.

Farmers have so far marketed only 12.5 kg of the produce in the SLS and SBS platforms put together against the estimated production of a little over 70 million kg. The price realised was ₹167 per kg for the 6.5 million kg marketed on the SLS auction platforms and ₹165 per kg for the 6 million kg sold on the SBS auction platforms, Tobacco Board sources said.

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