40% of migrant workforce back in the fields; prices improve with rise in demand
With about 40% of the estimated 25,000 migrant workers in the sector back in pineapple fields, farmers are looking ahead to better times after what many described as the worst slump in business triggered by the COVID-19 lockdown, a price crash and the flight of thousands of migrant workers from the State.
The crash in prices, lost crop and the near inability of the farmers to recoup their losses forced K.K. Anil, a pineapple farmer at Ayavana near Muvattupuzha, to commit suicide on August 21, leading to a wave of protests.
About 20% of the workers who manned pineapple fields had returned, strengthening the already available 20% who had not gone home in the wake of the pandemic, said Baby John, a veteran farmer and president of the Pineapple Growers’ Association. He said that about 20% of the remaining labour requirement was met by local hands, especially women who were skilled in the work.
The near normalisation of field work coupled with improvement in price has helped pineapple farmers overcome the feeling of gloom triggered by the pandemic. The best quality fruit fetched ₹25 to ₹26 a kg at present, said Mr. John, and pointed out that the demand in north Indian cities in the festive week of Navaratri had resulted in the price moving up.
However, the Vazhakkulam pineapple market is seeing depleted arrival. Fruit arrival has dwindled to about 50%, but the normalisation of the road transport network is helping move the fruit to places such as Mumbai and Delhi.
At the same time, heavy rain in north India has dampened demand to some extent even as continuing rains triggered by the retreating monsoon and frequent development of depression in the Bay of Bengal have impacted the seasonal activities in Kerala’s pineapple fields.
Farmers are, however, not out of the woods yet with an estimated total loan exposure of ₹450 crore for the sector. The State produces around 5.4 lakh tonnes of pineapple a year from about 18,000 hectares. The average turnover is ₹1,250 crore per year.
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