Joseph Ottaplackal, secretary of the Church-led farmers' organisation INFAM told FE that the situation in Wayanad is bad and small farmers are finding it hard to survive.
Known more for its picturesque plantations that produce some of the world’s best pepper, coffee and cocoa, Wayanad in northern Kerala is hoping that Rahul Gandhi’s candidature would bring the much-needed attention to its distressed farmers. Prices of most of the agri commodities produced in the region are on the lower side and the increasing cost of production is adding to the distress.
Joseph Ottaplackal, secretary of the Church-led farmers’ organisation INFAM told FE that the situation in Wayanad is bad and small farmers are finding it hard to survive. “Prices of most crops like pepper, coffee, cardamom, banana and vegetables have declined significantly in the last few years. Erratic climate and increasing cost of labour are also a big problem. Conflict with wild animals that destroy the crop and also kill humans is a big concern in the area,” he said.
The average tea prices in south India auctions had declined by nearly Rs 13 per kg during 2017-18 compared to prices (Rs 106.13 per kg) realised during 2016-17. In 2012-13, average price of south Indian tea stood at Rs 93.75 per kg, against the national average of Rs 127.91. Average price of tea touched Rs 96.35 per kg in 2018-19. Coffee prices during the period of 2013-2017 for Robusta Cherry ‘AB’ moved from Rs 127.18 per kg to Rs 130.95, while it touched Rs 144.33 in 2014.
The average price of natural rubber (RSS IV Grade) during 2017-18 was Rs 129.8 per kg which is Rs 4.69 less than that of 2016-17. During 2010-11, prices of natural rubber of the same grade stood at Rs 190.03 per kg. “More than 65-70 % of the Wayanad population depend on farming while the average land holding per farmer works out to be nearly 0.51 hectares. Marginal farmers who cultivate banana and vegetables are also finding it hard as market returns are not enough considering the high labour and input costs,” Ottaplackal said.
The total geographic area of Wayanad district is 2,12,968 ha, of which 1,66,875 ha (78%) is used for cultivation. Climate change also plays a significant role in reduced productivity and high incidence of pest and diseases. Monsoon failure, extended summer, severe drought situation and a steep rise in daytime temperature have created havoc among growers.
Anand MV, a small farmer who produces coffee and pepper, said changes in the climate is more worrying and adding to the uncertainty. “Number of wet days are seen decreasing and rainfall is erratic. Irrigating plantations is becoming more costly due to high diesel and labour costs. Availability of labour is also a big problem,” he added.
All India Kisan Sabha treasurer P Krishnaprasad said the agrarian crisis in the region is severe and the indebtedness of farmers is worrying. “During 1997-2007 more than 3,000 farmers committed suicide in Wayanad alone. The Congress government of Narasimha Rao had allowed duty-free import of some agri commodities, leading to a sharp decline in prices. The situation is similar with the Modi government not providing any relief. They also hiked prices of inputs like diesel and fertilisers.”