Kochi, May 21 (IANS) Pineapple growers in Kerala are facing a crisis ever since the Covid-19 pandemic struck the state and the country.
Currently staring at losses worth Rs 300 crores, they are seeking immediate relief measures.
Pineapple is cultivated across 18,000 hectares of land in the state, mainly in the hill tracts of central Kerala, in Muvattupuzha and Kothamangalam taluks.
The farmers on an average spend Rs 6.25 lakh per hectare every year and harvest around 5 lakh tonnes of pineapple worth nearly Rs 1,250 crores.
Vazhakulam Pineapple, the GI-tagged fruit which brought Kerala's diminishing agricultural dominance to global fame, has faced the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis which is deepening by the day.
According to James George, president of the All Kerala Pineapple Farmers Association, the farmers who do the farming on leased land with the help of bank loans, are facing a huge crisis with the supply chains closed and crops going waste.
"Farmers were expecting to wipe away the past losses this year, with more land available on lease in 2019 and prices hovering around Rs 39-Rs 45/kg during 2019 March- April. Considering these factors, they availed more loans and planted more and as expected the yield too was very high this year," said George.
The fruit is in high demand in Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmadabad and Chennai in addition to the annual Ramzan surge when at least 2000 tonnes of fruit is harvested every day.
"This year, this peak season for the pineapple was shattered by the Covid threat as most of the north Indian markets were closed for business and cargos weren't moving at all. The fruit, which would have been in high demand but for the delivery issues, was thus tanked to around Rs 10 on an average per kg this season while the cost of production was at least Rs 25 per kg most of the time. The total losses would add up to Rs 300 crores," added George.
The association has demanded that the government write off the interest on loans and restructure all the existing loans without interest up to two years.
"We also ask the government to request the land owners to reduce the lease amounts and give more time to make the payments," said George.
Currently, the minimum procurement price offered by the government is Rs 15. The association demanded that it be raised to Rs 25 in proportion to the cost of production.
The association also demanded a subsidy of Rs 10 per kg for the fruit which was produced during this season.
It has also sought the opening of the presently defunct Vazhakulam Agro and Fruit Processing Company in Nadukkara near here, besides licenses to small time entrepreneurs to produce wine and low-alcohol liquor from the pineapples.
Another problem being faced is that pineapple farming is a labour-intensive activity generating around 170 days of employment in an acre of land every year. With the migrant labourers who were employed in this sector deciding to return to their home state, it's another headache for the growers.