COVID-19 hurts farms: Hopes of profit dashed for Kandhamal's turmeric farmers

Farmers were forced to sell their produce at half the usual market rate two years in a row

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Friday 28 May 2021

Janak Pradhan, a turmeric cultivator in Nuagaon in Odisha’s Kandhamal district, was hoping to make a profit when the organic turmeric grown in the district received a geographical indication tag on April 1, 2019. But two years on, he is yet to see expected returns as the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted trade since 2020.

“Last year, we were forced to sell processed turmeric fingers at Rs 30-34 per kilogram as the agents of the procurement agencies did not rush to procure the turmeric due to the nationwide lockdown imposed by the government to contain the spread of the COVID-19,” said Sabaria Digal of Daringbadi, another turmeric planter in the village. 

The Odisha government declared a two-week lockdown from May 5 and fearing a repeat of last year’s situation, we were forced to sell our produce at throwaway prices, he added.

Turmeric cultivation begins in April and the plant is harvested from December to March. The roots are then boiled and dried in the sun. The farmers are ready to sell the manually processed produce by mid-March through April. Manually processed turmeric sells at Rs 60 / kg in normal circumstances.

But this year, the second COVID-19 wave hit the region during the procurement season. “Those who were in urgent need of cash had no choice but to sell turmeric at throwaway prices of Rs 30-35 per kg,” said Raja Karna, a farmer in Phiringia.

Around 60 per cent of Kandhamal is covered with hills and forests, offering suitable agro‐climatic conditions for cultivation of various spices, mainly turmeric. Around 50,000 farmers in the district grow turmeric in the district of around 25,000 hectares and produce around 26,000 tonnes annually.

The region’s tribals grow turmeric without applying fertilisers or pesticide. The aromatic value and golden yellow colour of ‘Kandhamal Haladi’ sets them apart from other varieties and makes them sough-after, said Manoj Das, former deputy director of horticulture, Kandhamal. This year, the crops had bumper yield due to favourable climatic conditions.

Some local traders took advantage of the crisis posed by the pandemic and procured turmeric from farmers at Rs 35-40 per kg, whereas Kandhamal Apex Spices Association for Marketing (KASAM), the government-backed cooperative agency, offers Rs 60 per kg.

KASAM procured in small quantities from a limited number of farmers this year and pay immediately, local producers alleged. “That’s why we prefer to sell the produce at lower prices to local traders,” said a farmer. He said the base price of the turmeric was not revised by KASAM since 2017-18. 

“Our association procured 850 tonnes of turmeric from 12,000 farmers last year but managed to sell only around 600 tones,” said Sanjit Kumar Patnaik, secretary of KASAM. “We will fix the procurement target for this year after assessing the COVID-19 situation,” he said. 

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