Bangalore Blue grapes turn sour for their growers in Karnataka

Updated - April 19, 2020 08:22 pm IST

Published - April 18, 2020 07:29 pm IST - BENGALURU

Farmer Sonnappa and his two sons with their produce pf Bangalore Blue variety of grape drying up in their vineyard at Hoovegal village in Chickballapur district.

Farmer Sonnappa and his two sons with their produce pf Bangalore Blue variety of grape drying up in their vineyard at Hoovegal village in Chickballapur district.

Just a month ago, there was a festive mood in the household of 60-year-old Sonnappa, a farmer from Hoovegal village of Chickballapur district, as he was hopeful of earning a handsome income from the Bangalore Blue variety of grape grown on his 1.5-acre vineyard.

The farmer, who had sold his crop the previous year for ₹3.8 lakh to some middlemen without making proper market enquiries, was optimistic of getting better returns this time.

But his hopes came crashing down when the COVID-19 lockdown came into force. That, coupled with several other issues, meant there were no takers for his crop. “I have standing crop of 15 to 20 tonnes. But so far, not even a single buyer has made enquiries or even visited my farm for purchase,” he said. “I heard that some middlemen are quoting a throwaway price of ₹2 a kg. But even such people have not visited our farm,” he said

“I have spent ₹1.5 lakh per acre. Forget about getting some income, I now need to spend about ₹25,000 on labour to pluck the dried grape branches,” said Mr. Sonnappa, whose crops are now drying up. He may have to borrow from private moneylenders to take care of his family. The farmer is particularly disappointed as his farming activity had gained momentum after his two sons joined him in agriculture despite engineering and polytechnic diploma degrees.

He also harvests about 60 kg of roses a day from a one-acre farm, but the rose market too has shut down. His sons burnt their fingers in vegetable cultivation too as they had to sell their standing carrot crop at just one-third of the regular rates.

Mr. Sonnappa’s is not an isolated case; almost all growers of Bangalore Blue grapes are in dire straits as their crops have started drying up with no takers.

Unharvested

Nearly 3,500 tonnes of Bangalore Blue variety still remains unharvested in the fields. This variety is mostly used for making juice and wine/spirit. While juice centres are closed, wineries too have stopped operations, said N. Narayanaswamy, a grape trader in southern Karnataka. This variety is generally sent to Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha for juice-making, apart from Maharasthra for wineries.

According to him, the only way to bail out growers is to either start spirit-making units or reopen three of the private spirit-making units that have been closed in the State. “It is possible to make spirit out of Bangalore Blue grapes. The spirit, which is used for liquor production, can be stored for five years,” said Mr. Narayanaswamy. He, however, maintained that it would not be possible to clear the entire standing crop through wineries, which cannot match distilleries in terms of procurement.

But the problem is that such measures would have to be implemented within a week or two, as the entire remaining crop may dry up soon, said K. Narayana Gowda, president of the alumni association of the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru. Farmers are upset as they feel the government did not act in a swift manner to safeguard their interests.

Meanwhile, about 8,000 to 10,000 tonnes of Dilkush variety of seeded green grapes too remains unharvested as it has become difficult to transport them to their regular markets in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, and North India. The growers are finding some solace in a few traders buying the produce at ₹8 to ₹10 a kg, as against the normal price of ₹25 to ₹30.

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