COVID-19 outbreak: Rajasthan cumin farmers face tough time finding buyers

Rajasthan's cumin farmers have faced a series of problems

By Jitendra
Published: Tuesday 24 March 2020

Cumin farmers in Rajasthan are bearing the brunt of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. A complete lockdown led to the shuttering of agriculture markets, impacting farmers across the state.

India accounts for 70 per cent of global cumin seed production, at 687 thousand tonnes. The country also consumes 90 per cent of this produce.

Gujarat and Rajasthan are the major producers, accounting for around 56 per cent and 44 per cent of total production, respectively, with the latter state's Barmer district being one of the most significant producers. 

The district accounts for around 60,000-70,000 tonnes of cumin across 170 thousand hectares of farmland, according to projections made by traders.

Cumin farmers in Barmer and other areas in Rajasthan, however, now face a tough time finding buyers for their produce because of the closing of markets.

Series of problems

The state-wide lockdown is only the latest in a series of calamities that farmers are suffering from. Locust attacks from December 2019 and unseasonal rain and hailstorms in March 2020 had damaged crops across the state.

Jugta Ram, a cumin farmer in Tardo ka Taal village in Barmer is facing one such crisis. His 10 hectare-long crop was first damaged by locust attacks in December 2019 that hit production by 30 per cent.

“This series of setbacks forces us to give up hope to resurrect ourselves from our spiral of debt,” said Ram.

He would earlier manage to save around five to six tonnes of his cumin harvest.

This time around, however, he managed to save only a tonne of his harvest, significantly below what he normally would save.

To add to his worries, Ram is supposed to pay a 20 per cent interest added to a monthly lease of Rs 5,000 per hectare of his farmland.

The current market rates do not support his farming either. Ram would get only Rs 120 per kg this season, less than what he got last year.

Ram cannot wait till May to sell his produce because of a debt he owes, after he invested in his farmland and bought pesticides and other materials.

Global and local fallout

“The cultivation area increased from last year. Locust attacks and unseasonal rain reduced prospective of cumin by up to 25 per cent,” said a Gujarat-based cumin trader.

Agmarknet — a government portal that tracks prices of commodities — shows domestic price of cumin was Rs 162 in April 2019 and Rs 167 in April 2018.

The price of cumin in March 2020 was Rs 135. 

“It is true that production was hit, but where are the buyers?” asked Dilip Kumar, a project manager with an agri-business in Barmer.

India exports cumin to Europe and China. The spraying of chemical pesticides like organophosphates to deal with locusts, however, hit exports to Europe.

European countries have high standards for chemical residues, so farmers and traders use only listed chemicals.

“After Europe, China is our biggest market. But China is reeling under the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Kumar.

“We have cumin stock but no buyers around the world at this point of time,” he added.

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