Over the last three to four years, tobacco crop had been yielding thousands of hectares of land across Mysuru district for ginger cultivation. But, the steep crash in prices of ginger last year has sparked a return of the farmers to tobacco cultivation this year.
The area under tobacco cultivation in the district had come down from 85,000 hectares about four years ago to 64,000 hectares last year, said officials in the Agriculture Department citing the migration of tobacco farmers largely to ginger and maize and other crops to a smaller extent.
“A lot of farmers had suffered huge losses due to crash in ginger prices. They are all returning to tobacco cultivation this year. Many of them have already started plantation”, claimed Javare Gowda, President of Federation of VFC Tobacco Growers Associations of Karnataka.
For the tobacco farmers, ginger crop appeared to hold a promise last year when the market prices ranged from₹2,500 to ₹2,750 for every 60 kg bag. The prices appeared remunerative enough for the tobacco farmers to opt for the shift to ginger. But, the prices came fell down to less than ₹1,000 for 60 kg in the market last year, which was dented by the blow exports had suffered because of COVID-19.
Similarly, the tobacco farmers who had shifted to cultivation of maize in the district were also disappointed with the prices.
The return of farmers to tobacco cultivation is a huge setback to the hopes of anti-tobacco crusaders against cultivation of tobacco, which is held responsible for causing ailments such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases and consequent deaths.
Confirming the crash in prices of ginger, Deputy Director of Horticulture, Mysuru, Rudresh Kumar, said the crop is unlikely to attract many new farmers this year. Against the ₹2,500 for a 60 kg bag, ginger is now sold for a price between ₹900 and ₹1,200, he said.
He attributed the slump in prices to the dip in demand for exports from overseas companies that were producing ginger powder or extracting oil. Demand from the hotel industry had also come down to a large extent owing to COVID-19.
Also, many farmers, who cultivate ginger, do not grow the crop on the same soil for at least two to three years as it is considered to be a nutrient-exhaustive crop.
Joint Director of Agriculture, Mysuru, Mahanteshappa said many farmers in Mysuru had shifted from tobacco to ginger during the last three to four years, leading to area under tobacco cultivation in Mysuru shrinking to 64,000 hectares from 85,000 hectares four years ago.
Many farmers in Hunsur and Periyapatna who cultivated maize were also not receiving a good market price. Though the minimum support price is ₹1,850 per quintal, the government cannot purchase maize as it cannot be distributed through the Public Distribution System (PDS). The market price is barely ₹1,300 to ₹1,400 per quintal, which is not profitable for the farmers, regretted officials from the Agriculture Department.
Though the price of tobacco was also not good, many farmers would prefer to cultivate tobacco as they would stand to benefit from the Tobacco Board’s schemes that include not only credit facility and distribution of fertilizer, but also guaranteed buy back at its auction platforms, Mr. Mahanteshappa observed.
However, he said all farmers may not return to tobacco as the Tobacco Board will impose a ceiling on the crop size. The farmers may have to explore other options including vegetable crops, he said.
But, in view of the return of large number of farmers to tobacco cultivation, Mr. Javare Gowda said he had already written to the Tobacco Board to enhance the crop size of tobacco in Karnataka to 99 million kg for the year 2021-22 from 88 million kg last year (2020-21).