COVID-19: Farmers in Kerala depending on State government to sell their produce during the lockdown

Mangoes procured from Perumatty panchayat in Palakkad   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Fifty-nine-year-old Jayakodi lives in scenic Yellapetty, located to the east of Munnar in Idukki district on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, cultivating carrot, cauliflower and potatoes. The produce is usually taken to markets in places such as Ernakulam, Aluva and Madurai. But the lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 disrupted the supply chain and his entire harvest was left unsold. “That’s when Horticorp (Kerala State Horticultural Products Development Corporation) came to the rescue and procured the harvest. I was able to sell close to 10 tonnes of vegetables,” says Jayakodi.

Although agriculture comes under essential services and markets were excluded from the lockdown, farmers were left high and dry with harvesting, procurement and transportation coming to a halt. That’s when the State government stepped in and the vegetables and the fruits were bought, transported and marketed through Horticorp and VFPCK (Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Keralam) outlets by The Department of Agriculture Development & Farmers’ Welfare.

Vegetables brought from Idukki being sold in Thiruvananthapuram

Vegetables brought from Idukki being sold in Thiruvananthapuram   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Give and take

In some instances, a kind of barter system was put in place to deal with surplus produce. For example, while bananas, long beans and bitter gourd were brought to Thiruvananthapuram from Nedumkandam in Idukki, heaps of pineapple lying unsold in the capital city were taken in return to Idukki.

“When the lockdown was announced, a WhatsApp group was formed at the State-level to track the movement of vegetables and fruits and to learn about surplus produce in each district,” says K Vasuki, Agriculture Director. The group includes principal agricultural officers of all districts, marketing officers of the department, assistant directors, farmers and representatives of farmers’ groups. WhatsApp groups were also formed at the district-level.

Among the beneficiaries were fruit farmers, especially those cultivating pineapple, mangoes and papaya. One of the first initiatives to help farmers was the ‘Pineapple challenge’ launched by the Association of Agricultural Officers Kerala and the Kerala Pineapple Farmers’ Association in Ernakulam to handle the unsold harvest that reached Vazhakkulam market near Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district. It was then extended to other districts as well.

Benny PP at his pineapple farm

Benny PP at his pineapple farm   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Benny PP, a pineapple farmer in Thiruvananthapuram, has been a beneficiary of the challenge. “It came up to around 300 tonnes and I was eyeing markets in North India when the lockdown was announced,” says 50-year-old Benny, who was given a helping hand by Krishi Bhavan officials and panchayat of Anad. “Over 30 tonnes have already been procured and harvesting is still on. It is a relief, although I am still worried about repayment of bank loans and keeping this running,” he says.

In Palakkad district, it was mangoes that left farmers in a pickle. The district has 45,000 hectares of mango orchards spread over Muthalamada, Perumatty and Kollengode panchayats. “Usually, traders book an entire orchard or orchards and they sell mangoes in North Indian or international markets. When that didn’t happen this season, Horticorp and VFPCK stepped in. Mango farmers have already incurred huge losses due to drought, two floods and attack by a kind of thrip (a pest),” says Prajith Kumar MM, a mango farmer of Perumatty panchayat in the district.

P Madan Kumar grows Red Lady variety of papaya in Pudur village of Attappady in Palakkad district

P Madan Kumar grows Red Lady variety of papaya in Pudur village of Attappady in Palakkad district   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Papaya famers catering to international markets were also hit by the lockdown. As in the case of the Red Lady variety of papaya grown in Pudur village of Attappady in Palakkad district. P Madan Kumar has been exporting the fruit via Nedumbassery airport. “It is difficult to grow this variety and I had planted it on five acres. The yield was over 10 tonnes. Half of it was procured by Horticorp after I contacted a Krishi Bhavan official who took photos and posted it in their WhatApp group,” says 32-year-old Madan.

The government machinery also reached out to farmers who grew vegetables, targeting the festival season of Vishu, especially kanivellari (a kind of golden-yellow cucumber) and ash gourd. “Tonnes of kanivellari were ready for the Vishu markets in Palakkad, Ernakulam and different parts of Malappuram. But there were no buyers. Thankfully, over 100 tonnes of the vegetable was procured from 30-odd farmers in the region by Horticorp,” says Mohammed Ali, a farmer from Aripra in Malappuram district.

Support system
  • Horticorp and VFPCK are selling vegetables and fruits through their outlets across Kerala, mainly Farmer Retail Outlets (FRO) that were launched during the lockdown. In addition, it is also available through online delivery platforms such as Swiggy, Zomato, Big Cart, AM Needs, Kerala Specials, Tati Bazaar, KooHoi and Gramasree, to name a few. Vegetables and fruit kits were sold through the online platforms and local self-government bodies.

In the case of B Sankaranarayana Bhat from Bandiadka in Kasaragod district, the Corporation procured 14 tonnes of ash gourd after a Facebook post alerted authorities about his difficulty. “When there were no buyers, a relative posted about it on Facebook. Farm journalist Shree Padre also took up the issue,” says the 61-year-old.

M Ambujakshan at his snap melon farm in Vellangallur, Thrissur district

M Ambujakshan at his snap melon farm in Vellangallur, Thrissur district   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The situation of snap melon (pottuvellari) farmers in Thrissur district was no different. Krishi Bhavan officials formed a WhatsApp group of residents’ associations in Thrissur town and posted a message to help the farmers. Horticorp also procured the stock after M Ambujakshan, a pottuvellari farmer from Vellangallur, brought the issue to the notice of Minister for Agriculture V S Sunil Kumar in a phone-in programme. Although the lockdown has eaten into the profits of the farmers, they are aware that they cannot afford to cherry-pick and are relieved that not all their hard work has gone to waste.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 3:45:38 PM |

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