As migrant workers board special Shramik trains to go back to home states, fruits and vegetable exporters as well as oilseed processors are feeling the pinch. The ongoing export of fruits and vegetables and availability of de-oiled seed cake – an important raw material for the poultry industry – are expected to be hit in the days to come.
Since May 1, the central government has started operating Shramik Special trains to facilitate stranded workers to return to their home states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Movement has been seen from metro cities like Mumbai as well as from relatively untouched centres like Latur and Gulbarga in Maharashtra and Karnataka, respectively. Working as manual labour in wholesale markets or processing units, these workers are engaged in loading and unloading material, transporting the finished product to godowns etc. Operations in most units can come to a grinding halt if such labour is unavailable.
Naresh Goenka, vice-president of Soyabean Processors Association (SOPA), the apex body of soyabean processors in the country, said around 60 per cent of 10,000 to 15,000 labourers engaged in various oil extraction and solvent plants in the state had left their workplaces. Goenka said the effect will be felt more in production of de-oiled cake (DOC) than in the availability of edible oil. DOC is protein-rich solid left after oil is expelled from oilseed and is an important component in the poultry and animal feed industry.
“On an average, India requires around 5 lakh tonnes of DOC for the poultry industry and availability will be a problem next month onwards,” he said.
Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are major growers and, thus, producers of soyabean and DOC. Material from both states are sold to large poultry farms in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh , Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. “Consumption of edible oil has gone down by 50 per cent, so there is enough supply in the pipeline with the solvent and extractors. Also, labour requirement in such plants is minimal and thus will not be affected,” he said. Most labour, Goenka said, was involved in loading, unloading the oilseed bags, as well as bagging the DOC into bags of 50 kg each.
Like oilseed processors, fruits and vegetable exports from India are also feeling the pinch with most reducing their work by as much as 70 per cent. Anand Shejwal, chairman of Fruits and Vegetable Exporters Association, said the labour problem has come at a time when exports of fruits and vegetables to Gulf countries is at its peak due to the ongoing holy month of Ramzan.
“While exports of mangoes from Konkan have ended, the Kesar mangoes from Gujarat will still be in the market for the next 30 to 40 days. Without labour, it is impossible to meet the overseas demand,” he said.
India is a major exporter of vegetables like lime, okra, chillies, etc, to Gulf countries. The export facilitation centre at Vashi’s wholesale market is a major gateway for exporters. Gulf countries, especially United Arab Emirates (UAE), count among the top five export destinations for Indian fruits and vegetables. During the 2018-19 fiscal, India had imported around 8.66 lakh tonnes of fresh fruits and vegetables valued at $403.35 million.
Shejwal and other exporters said around 5,000 to 6,000 workers were employed with various export and import farms in Vashi’s market. “In the wholesale market, the number would at least be four times higher,” he said. Ajit Shah, president of onion exporters association, also pointed to a similar trend in onion exports. “Both drivers and loading and unloading labour are short in supply now,” he said.
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