As organic farmers seek help, Horticorp lets them down – The New Indian Express

Most organic farmers complain that they are not getting a fair price for their vegetables.
Published: 10th September 2022 04:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th September 2022 04:13 AM   |  A+A-
KOCHI:  Though Kerala has been vociferous in its support to organic farming, lack of supportive system and passive resistance from the agriculture department are forcing passionate peasants to give up farming. Adding insult to injury, the Planning Board in its draft policy has advocated steps to boost productivity and negate organic farming policy. Most of the organic farmers complain that they are not getting fair price for their vegetables.

Though the Horticorp claims that it is providing 30% more price for organic vegetables, farmers say the rates are not realistic. This Onam, the Horticorp, a government agency formed to support farmers in the state, has procured 5,000 tonnes of vegetables from Thenkasi in Tamil Nadu and Mysuru in Karnataka for Onam fairs. This happens when farmers in Kerala are struggling to survive due to crashing prices.
“There is real demand for organic vegetables in Kerala, but the agriculture department is not supportive. The government should fix realistic prices for farm products ensuring profit to the farmers. If the government wants to ensure fair price to consumers, it can provide vegetables at subsidised rates.
The government has a responsibility to provide nutritious and pesticide-free food to the people,” said M G University organic farming course coordinator K V Dayal. “A team of students who completed the course at M G University has leased 1,000 acres of land at Cumbum in Tamil Nadu for organic farming. They got Nabard aid of Rs 1.15 crore to build 7 check dams. Tamil Nadu CM visited the farm and assured all support. Can agripreneurs in Kerala dream of such support,” he asked.
The agriculture department ordered closure of the office of a start-up producing biofertilizers in Pathanamthitta alleging that the product does not meet the required quality. There are hundreds of shops selling pesticides that are harmful to human health and the agriculture department has no complaints, said Dayal.
The agriculture department provides subsidy for use of slaked lime or calcium hydroxide in farmlands. This has killed earthworms that improve the quality of soil through aeration. Around 98 per cent of the soil in Kerala is acidic and we need amelioration with calcium carbonate or powdered sea shells to reduce acidity, he said.  Farmers at Kanthallor in Idukki district complain that the Horticorp has not procured vegetables during the past two years. “The Horticorp does not procure vegetables from us and the traders are exploiting us. This year we have suffered huge loss due to heavy rain,” said T N Sukumaran, a farmer at Kanthalloor.
“The governments, both Centre and state, are not supporting organic farmers. We are cultivating premium quality paddy like Gandhakasala and Jeerakasala under the Tirunelli Agri Producer Company for the past 5 years. We have regular customers and organic outlets across the state that purchase our products. The state government has provided a rice mill. We procure Wayanadan Thondi at Rs 30 per kg and Gandhakasala at Rs 55 per kg. The procurement rate of Jeerakasala is Rs 60 while that of Njavara rice is Rs 90,” said Rajesh Krishnan, CEO of Tirunelli Agro Producer Company.
However, Swaroop Kunnampully, a farmer in Palakkad, was appreciative of the efforts taken by the Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Keralam (VFPCK) to promote vegetable farming. “The Panangattary society of the VFPCK procures vegetables worth Rs 10 to Rs 15 crore per year. They take a 5 per cent margin but give back 3 per cent as bonus and subsidy. They have standardised vegetable farming encouraging farmers to mulching sheets and drip irrigation. Organic farmers depend on eco shops and organic shops that offer 50 per cent more than the market rate. However, small-scale organic farmers are struggling due to lack of market and low rates,” he said.
Denying allegations, Horticorp managing director J Sajeev said the production of organic vegetables is less than 2 per cent in the state. “We are ready to give premium price for organic vegetables cultivated following good agricultural practices, but the farmers do not allow us to conduct field verification. The allegations are raised by middlemen who procure vegetables from small-scale farmers at low rates and sell it to us at higher prices. There has been delay in payment but we have cleared the arrears till June. The dues will be cleared once we get the Onam fund allocation from government,” he said.
The Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Keralam (VFPCK) has 95,910 registered farmers, who cultivate 19,182 hectares of land. “We agree that the variation in market rate affects farmers. Most of the farmers are not ready to part with the traditional crops. Farmers cultivate banana for Onam market and cucumber for Vishu market. Farmers in Palakkad prefer cultivation of snake gourd and bitter gourd. But the prices crash when the products flood the market causing huge loss to farmers. We are educating farmers to take up diversification of crops,” said VFPCK deputy manager Sephi Joseph.
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