The aroma of pepper is missing from the air in this agrarian belt of Wayanad district, which once accounted for half the country’s annual pepper production. Pulpally and nearby areas, bordering Karnataka, are ghost towns for farmers. The fall in prices of pepper and coffee, coupled with drought have hit them hard.
With Congress president Rahul Gandhi contesting from Wayanad, the agrarian crisis and the neo-liberal policies and free trade pacts of Congress governments at the Centre have become a dominant poll theme in the constituency. The LDF, which had launched an agitation against the ASEAN free trade pact of the UPA Government in 2009, is all set to highlight the crisis that Wayanad farmers face after the pact.
Addressing a LDF rally in the district headquarters of Kalpetta, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Rahul should apologise to the farmers. “The ASEAN pact came into effect with the knowledge of Rahul. The agreement was signed by the Congress government without debating it in Parliament or consulting with the state government. Now, farmers in Kerala are facing hardship over the pact. Is Rahul ready to tender an apology towards the farmers in Wayanad?” he asked.
All India Kisan Sabha treasurer P Krishna Prasad said the neo-liberal policies of the Congress in 1991 led to the agrarian crisis in Wayanad.
He said the LDF would organise a farmers’ rally in Pulpally on Friday to highlight the issue. “The event will be attended by AIKS national leader Ashok Dhawale and Vijoo Krishnan among other LDF leaders from Kerala. On April 14, around 1 lakh LDF workers will meet voters to seek an apology from Rahul to farmers before seeking votes. After we brought the farmer crisis into the poll debate, the Congress was forced to debate the issue.”
Congress legislator and former minister A P Anil Kumar said, “Let the LDF government do what is possible to help farmers. Instead, they are digging into Congress policies. They haven’t extended the moratorium on bank loans till end of this year as promised. We are not worried about the Left campaign, Rahul will win with huge majority,” he said.
The crisis in Wayanad has forced many farmers to move to Karnataka for a livelihood. Scores of farmers from lower and middle class families now work in farmlands in Karnataka as daily labourers. Till a decade ago, workers from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka would cross over to the district to harvest pepper and coffee.
Several farmers also switched to rubber cultivation, which yielded Rs 240 per kg in 2012. But the prices have been Rs 100-120 in the last three years due to heavy import, so farmers have stopped tapping rubber trees for latex.
Shivaraman P, a farmer from Mullankolli, said most farmer families are surviving by rearing one or two cows or by sending women for the job guarantee scheme. “But the payment of the scheme has been pending for six months. Drought has reduced fodder supply, putting dairy farmers in trouble.”