Restricted inter-state movement and reduced demand due to curbs on get-togethers and functioning of eateries have hit demand of various vegetables with farmers in Punjab being forced to sell their surlus produce for a loss.
In protest, farmers in Mansa threw their capsicum produce on the road and even ploughed it back into the fields in some cases. Farmers stated that in the first week of March, they were getting around Rs 30 a kg for supply of early varieties of capsicum which was reduced to 15 per kg in the first week of April. The going rates now, farmers said, were Rs 2-3 a kg.
While the farmer is selling his produce at throwaway prices, the customer is paying around 25 a kg for capsicum in the retain market.
State’s Horticulture Department has calculated that surplus produce that the Punjab’s farmers are stuck with during the period between April and May till date.
Chilli, which is grown in Ferozepur, Patiala and Sangrur, is 5,000 MT in surplus, while surplus quantity of watermelons is 12,000 MT and it is 6,000 MT for Muskmelons. Both type of melons are grown in Jalandhar and Kapurthala and have markets in J&K, UP and Rajasthan apart from domestic sales. The Horticulture Department said that the main reason was “controlled operations” of the Azadpur Mandi of Delhi and the fall in demand due hotels shutting down and get-togethers being restricted.
In Punjab, around 50,000 hectare area is under vegetables out and yields a produce of around 24,000 metric tonnes.
Capsicum is grown on 1,350 hectare area and Mansa, Sangrur and Ferozepur are the main growing districts with Punjab, NCR being the main markets.
Gora Singh Bhainibaga, the farmer who had destroyed a part of his capsicum produce, said,”It is better to destroy it or plough it back in fields as it involves lot of labour in picking the vegetable from fields and later taking it to mandis amid Covid scare. Rs 3 a kg is nothing to go all the way to mandis for. I had spent around 80,000 an acre on the fields.
Last year, I earned Rs 3 lakh an acre after excluding all expenses. But this year, I will not be able to even meet my expenses, hence I am throwing it on road or crushing it in my harvested wheat fields.”
According to the Horticulture Department, farmers are getting stuck with 100 MT unsold capsicum produce daily.
Shailender Kaur, Director, Horticulture, said,”We are concerned about farmers, due to lockdown there are very few markets left and even there is no demand because of slowdown everywhere. There are no weddings, hotels are closed, general demand has also reduced. We are thinking of keeping surplus quantity in cold stores so as to sell it later.”
Sukhbir Singh, another farmer of Bhainibagha village, said, “Our village’s 400 acres land grows capsicum and even Chandikalan village grows it in large quantity. Also, we are not even getting good price for Taiwan variety of melon which was sold at Rs 60 a kg last year, as this year its price is 15-20 a kg in mandis. We are feeling doomed after growing vegetables.”
Gora Singh added,”We go to local mandis at about 4 am and have to be back by 9 am. Earlier, we could sell till noon and hence had ample time to bargain the price. However, now vegetable commission agents offers us low prices and due to no markets outside Punjab, we are forced to sell at low prices.”
Director, Horticulture Department, said, “A number of farmers have started direct marketing and they are becoming successful as well, it is high time that farmers need to get into direct marketing. We are asking farmers to make groups and do direct selling or get linked with farmer organisations already working. Otherwise, we will store the surplus produce.”