The outbreak of Coronavirus and a freeze in the freight and logistics industry that followed the pandemic may lead to a collective loss of almost $1 billion or around Rs 7,000 crore for the fruit growing farmers across the country.
For many fruit growing farmers, the time between March and May is particularly joyous as fruits are transported and sold to wholesale markets and from there it reaches the consumers.
But this year, things aren’t so rosy.
“We are ready to supply bananas but we are not getting trucks to transport it to the cities,” said Vaibhav Mahajan, a banana grower from Savada of Jalgaon district of Maharashtra.
He adds, “Banana prices have dropped by 60 percent in the last two weeks to about Rs 400 a quintal but still there are no takers due to non-availability of distribution channels and partial close down transportation.”
Jalgaon district cultivates the highest number of bananas in the country, with around 45,000 hectares of cultivated land with the fruit. Bananas have a shelf life of about a week once it is plucked from the tree.
Earlier, for a trip from Jalgaon to Jaipur, transporters charged around Rs 45,000 that has now risen to as much as Rs 85,000.
This has trickled down to consumers in urban cities. Fruits are being bought at higher prices and the middle man is making money in the process.
Several farmers across the region are struggling to sell their produce.
“Truckers are refusing to transport it, despite bananas being part of essential commodities since they fear that they may not get any restaurants or dhabas on their way which means they may have to do an entire journey, sometimes days without food,” said Mahajan.
The current situation will impact the small acreage farmers more as such farmers take loans for farming. Simply put, they will not be able to repay the crop loan they had taken and may even not have spare money for the next year's season.
Just like banana growers, farmers from Amravati district of Maharashtra are facing trouble in selling their oranges.
According to Pratap Patil, an orange grower from the region, the prices have come down to Rs 15 per kg from Rs 35 a kg just a couple of weeks ago. In Amravati and surrounding areas, farmers have over 1,000 tonnes of oranges plucked and parcelled but they are just stationed in warehouses due to non-availability of transportation.
“Oranges have a shelf life of two weeks after harvest if they are not able to sell then we will incur a major loss this year,” said Patil.
Oranges from India are also exported to European countries which has also been stopped during the lockdown.
“We might face a collective loss of Rs 2,000 crore if the situation remains the same.”
Amravati is a part of Vidarbha in Maharashtra which is infamous for farmer suicides.
However, Amravati is a place where farmers usually do not take such drastic steps due to crop failure or losses.
But Patil fears that we may see suicide cases from Amravati this time, highlighting the worsening situation.
The conditions are more severe for grape farmers. Grapes are in the market from mid-March till mid-April and they sell at around Rs 100. But now, their prices have also corrected significantly as they are now selling at Rs 50.
A low shelf-life for grapes also adds to the predicament. Moreover, grapes are also used for making raisins but production has halted due to lockdown.
Some banana, grape and orange farmers are throwing their crops as these may get destroyed in the 21 days of lockdown.
Another major fruit business that will get affected in Maharashtra is of Pomegranate.
Solapur-based farmer Aniruddha Vasant Pujari told Moneycontrol on the phone that prices have gone down from Rs 200 per kg to about Rs 25 per kg.
Pujari estimates losses of around Rs 2,000 crore owing to lockdown.
The selling cost of pomegranate has also increased due to a rise in storage and crate costs. Earlier, the cost of a crate was Rs 55 which is now selling at Rs 90 due to shut down their factories.
Similarly, Srinagar-based Maajid Wafai, an apple grower and also an owner of a cold storage business, estimates a loss of around Rs 200 crore due to lockdown across the country.
The Northernmost state of the country cultivates around 2 million tonnes of apples annually and the state has an unsold inventory of around 1 lakh tonnes which will result in losses for apple growers and storage owners, feels Wafai.
“We sell our entire inventory of apples by mid-May but that is not going to happen for sure,” said Wafai.
He adds, “Farmers have to keep unsold apples in cold storages, but if the time increases the cost for farmers also increases as well and if the cost goes up beyond a certain time, they abandon their produce in fear of paying for cold storages.”
Similarly, apple growers in the neighbouring Himachal Pradesh are also facing troubles due to the lockdown.
Jeet Singh, 65, a farmer from Kullu, is uncertain about his future. “The apple crop requires four-time spray of pesticides and fertilizers during its entire cycle but the exodus of labourers from the state to Uttar Pradesh and Nepal will result in crop failure and losses for the farmers,” said Singh.
Some of the districts in Himachal Pradesh, including Kullu and Mandi are dependent on apple farming only. In these areas, farmers are not much dependent on crop loans but they certainly take other loans from banks which may not be repaid in the coming months if the whole farming and selling cycle is not be completed on time.
There is some respite for mango growers. The fruit comes in the market from the first week of April and even despite the skeleton logistics, the farmers will be able to sell it due to the long season that goes until July. However, mango growers too will have to see a loss on the export front.
The government announced a lockdown in the country on March 24. Farmers complain that until a week after the announcement there was no transportation allowed by state governments.
In major cities, markets are open for a fixed time period so the demand for fruits has slowed down significantly. Over and above all this, whenever there is uncertainty in income people first think only about stocking up on essentials needed for survival and fruits don’t come under that category.