It has been a problem of plenty for Punjab’s kinnow growers this season, with a glut leading to prices falling drastically. Kinnow is selling at Rs 7 to 8 a kilo, and even the handful of farmers with the best varieties have managed no more than Rs 10. Last year, 60 per cent of the kinnow had sold at Rs 15 to 25 a kg, before the price dropped to Rs 10 to 12 by the end of the season. Horticulture authorities feel it has been the worst year in the past four.
The glut has not been caused by higher production in terms of weight, for the yield has remained roughly the same at 21-22 tonnes per hectare over the same area, 42,000 hectares, horticulture department figures show. What has increased is quantity, at the cost of quality.
“This year the number of fruits per tree has increased, but their size is much smaller. The quality is not that good, which is the main reason for low prices,” says Dr Lajwinder Singh Brar, director for horticulture. “A few good farms have got prices in the range Rs 17-18 a kg and some buyers have picked the fruit from the farms, but such cases have been very rare.”
But the primary cause of the glut, according to farmers, is a high inflow from other states that produce kinnow. “Though the area under kinnow has remained the same in Punjab, it has increased in Haryana and Rajasthan and the fruit has come in large quantities from those states,” says Balwinder Singh Tikka, a farmer based in Abulkhurana, Muktsar.
“Kinnow is coming in large quantities from Ganganagar via Abohar of Punjab, which is the kinnow belt of the state. So prices are bound to crash,” says Rajinder Singh of Abohar.
Punjab farmers complain also about lower subsidy for drip irrigation, which is ideal for kinnow, compared to what is given in those states. Some states subsidise up to 90 per cent of the drip irrigation cost while Punjab subsidises 75 per cent.
Farmers also say demand has been low this year from the southern and West Bengal markets, from where the fruit is sent to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. “Last year we had earned Rs 300 for each 10 kg pack sent to the South Indian and West Bengal markets; this year the packs ordered there have been going at Rs 200 to 240,” says Tikka.
Even in the Delhi market, the fruit has been going in the range of Rs 150 per 10 kg, he says.
Because last year had brought a good season, farmers are not overly upset. However they stress the need for a minimum support price for this fruit to save farmers from middlemen. The absence of processing industries is another reason for the crash in prices, they add.
Meanwhile, the daisy tangerine, introduced by Punjab Agriculture University last year, remains under trial though it was supposed to have reached the market in November. It is sweeter than the kinnow. The horticulture director says it will still take about two more years before this variety is grown in the orchards of farmers. At present, it is still in the farms of the horticulture department and the root stock is being made ready for bulk supply
Among other citrus varieties horticulture experts are looking at as an alternative to the kinnow, several have medicinal properties. The mitha, rich in quinine that helps fight dengue and malaria, and the grapefruit that is recommended for diabetics, are being grown along with the Malta on 3,000 hectares. So far, however, there has been no campaign to raise awareness about their medicinal values, either among consumers or even among farmers. As such the kinnow retains it monopoly in Punjab’s citrus market.