The COVID-19 lockdown has affected not just the daily life of Keralites, but the year-long efforts of hapless farmers across the state who have been looking forward to Vishu, the harvest festival season, which is normally the most-anticipated sales time for them. To revive the farming scenario, agriculture officers in the state have joined hands with farmers, introducing initiatives like 'pineapple challenge' to boost sales of the local produce.
The famous Vazhakkulam pineapple procured from Thodupuzha, Kothamangalam, Piravom, Koothattukulam, Perumbavoor, Angamaly and Moovattupuzha are collected at Vazhakkulam, the headquarters of pineapple market in Kerala. Every year during the harvest season, the pineapple market in the Ernakulam belt has been witnessing a daily export of 1,200 tonnes to North India. But this year, the epidemic fear has upset the ‘pineapple’ cart.
“The situation is worse now as the drivers stay away from transporting the loads to North India, fearing the epidemic. Even if they go, they have to opt for 14-day isolation once they are back. The situation has resulted in farmers stalling the harvest. Hence, we came up with a pineapple challenge,” says John Sherry, agriculture assistant director, Ernakulam district.
The initiative is aimed at residents of Ernakulam, who, through residents’ associations, apartment complex groups, small-scale industry units, NGOs or salesmen, can place orders of minimum 100 kg of quality A-grade pineapples which will be door delivered at a rate of Rs 20 per kg. The last day to place the orders is Monday (April 6). “The orders are placed on WhatsApp and will be delivered on April 7 and 8 at the address sent to the number. If one household can purchase one or two kilograms of pineapple, an association can purchase 100 kg for the people there. Bulk purchase can also help in preparation of value-added products like jams, jellies, squashes, wine, pickle,” he says. The orders can be placed on WhatsApp at: 9995820686, 9895691687, 9495950275 and 9995155346.
The reception to the challenge has been encouraging, says John. "By Monday morning, we have received orders for 32 tonnes of pineapple and there are enquiries from other districts too. Thousands of tonnes of pineapples are still awaiting orders. We hope to coordinate with various district agriculture officers and take forward the mission."
Cucumber challenge on the way
Agriculture officers in Thrissur have come up with a cucumber challenge for the sale of the cucumbers harvested for the Vishu and summer season. On placing orders at numbers 9446466702, 9526367816 or 9446035934, cucumbers will be home delivered in and around Thrissur at a rate of Rs 28 per kg. Both bulk orders and individual orders can be placed for cucumber, which every year, sees a great sale during the scorching summer.
Another harvest that is hit by COVID is golden cucumber or kanivellari, the quintessential part of Vishu festival, right from the vishukkani bowl to the traditional sadya ingredient. “Almost 120 tonnes of golden cucumber (two varieties) harvested at Angadippuram are waiting here for takers,” says agriculture officer Suresh K P, pointing out that the farmers have been banking on the agents from Coimbatore market, who procure their produces every year.
“Equally affected are the watermelon farmers and organic vegetable farmers in the state. Last year, the watermelon harvest in Malappuram had earned good profit for the farmers, but this year, with people stuck indoors, there are no sales or procurement by agents from across the border,” he says.
Even the banana sales have dipped. Farmers who have been cultivating the nendran, poovan, rasthali, robusta and monthan varieties of bananas keeping in mind the Vishu season, have suffered a huge blow. “Farmers used to get a minimum of Rs 30 per kg for their yield, but now they are getting less than Rs 15,” says Suresh.
With hardly a few days to look forward as tonnes of their crops lay out perishing, the farmers in the state are pinning their hopes to the message tones in their phones.