COVID-19 lockdown a pause in Himachal’s exotic vegetable success story

Demand for produce plummets, forcing most farmers to throw away the crop or feed it to cattle  

By Rajeev Khanna
Published: Tuesday 28 April 2020
Source: Wallpaper

The success story scripted by farmers of exotic vegetables in Himachal Pradesh is facing a disruption due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown. The demand for the produce has plummeted, forcing most farmers to throw away the crops or feed them to cattle.

“We are thinking of handing over our produce to local gurdwaras. That way, they can be fed to the poor at least,” said Manoj Verma, a farmer from Solan district.

Till a few months ago, vegetables such broccoli, red and yellow capsicum, lettuce and red radish were being sold at high prices in the metros. Cut to present, many farmers are giving away all their produce to vegetable vendors asking them to let people take them for free.

 “The produce is highly dependent on the travel and tourism industry. They are served in five-star hotels and other high-end eating joints. The lockdown has sounded the death knell for hotel and tourism industry for at least the next few months. The markets for the produce, too, have crashed,” added Verma.

He said he fears a cascading impact in the coming months.

Ashwani Verma, involved in the business of erecting polyhouses where a major chunk of exotic vegetables are produced, said, “People like us are also badly hit. We have been unable to execute the pending work because we haven’t been able to procure raw material. The local labour is idle at home.”

Farmers pointed at declining demand for these vegetables at the local level because “people haven’t yet developed a taste for them”.

They said the local consumer preferred cauliflower over broccoli and cabbage over lettuce.

Farmers took up the production of these vegetables in districts such as Solan, Sirmour, Shimla, Mandi and Kullu. The vegetables would be transported to cities like Chandigarh and Delhi, the main markets for such produce.

Kisan Sabha leader Kuldip Tanwar said exotic vegetables still account for over five per cent of the 18 lakh metric tons of vegetables produced in Himachal Pradesh.

Most producers have their own chain of marketing.

“The Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) and other institutions had no role to play in the marketing till now. There is a need to have a cool chain infrastructure and refrigerated vans to transport the produce. It needs to be understood that these are future crops,” he said.

Meanwhile, farmers pressed the need to for a relief package, saying the needy do not only comprise “the industrial and construction labour alone”.

“The farmers are unable to repay loans taken through Kisan credit cards. From where will they procure seeds, fertilizers and other inputs for the coming season? The government needs to come up with some key interventions to boost the confidence of the farmer,” said Verma.

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