TN banana farmers go bananas on slippery lockdown

Chennai, April 8 (IANS) It is a plant that is entirely useful for human beings and no component of it goes waste. But due to the national lockdown, the crop planted on hundreds of acres in Tamil Nadu is going waste and in the process has put the farmers to great distress.

“The banana flower is used as vegetable, the raw banana and stem are also used as vegetables, the leaf is used for packing, serving food and making plates, the fibre from the stem is used to weave sarees and even the fruit peels apart from being a cattle feed has a good demand from bakeries,” G. Ajeethan, General Secretary, Tamil Nadu Banana Growers Federation told IANS.
“The banana season in Tamil Nadu is between Jan – June during which weddings are held and there are festivals resulting in demand for all the products – plant flower, raw and ripe banana,” he added.
However, the lockdown due to the spread of coronavirus has affected the growers in the state as they are not able to harvest the produce and transport it to the market.
It is an all-round whammy for the growers. There is no labour to harvest, no transport to take the already harvested produce to the market and no customer as the shops and chips making units are closed.
The major banana varieties grown in Tamil Nadu are Elaki, Poovan, Rasthali. There are also varieties like hill banana, red banana, nendran and others.
Farmers told IANS that there is a separate banana plant variety that is raised for its leaves alone.
“As there is no harvest and no market either, farmers will not be able to repay their crop loan and hence will not be able to get another loan for the next crop,” Ajeethan added.
He said it would cost about Rs 70,000 per acre for banana cultivation.
Pointing out the crop is a capital intensive one, Ajeethan added that the cropping regions could be classified into two “where there is ratooning practice and where there is no ratooning practice.
“In the case of farms with ratooning practice, they will need working capital so that they can raise the next crop. In those places where there is no ratooning practice the loss will be high and getting loan for the next crop will be difficult,” he added.
Out of the 2.25 lakh acres of banana crop in Tamil Nadu about 1.50 lakh acre will be during the Jan – June season.
According to farmers, the fruit and the leaves are the two major revenue earners while the banana flower and the stem contribute to a smaller extent.
Other revenue streams like fibre for weaving and banana peel powder are not major revenue earners.
The lockdown and the cascading impact have also affected exports to the Gulf and SAARC countries, Ajeethan said.
“Normally about 200-250 container loads are exported per month but now this has come down to one or two container loads,” he said.
Though much has been said about the scope for banana-based processed food industry little has happened. The very old stock of nendran chips is what is available now.
“There is scope for banana wine and other products. Wine from Poovan banana is good. In Maharashtra making wine from banana is permitted but not in Tamil Nadu,” Ajeethan said.
In Theni district a large number of farmers had shifted to red banana cultivation attracted by its realisation, but the lockdown has dashed their dreams.
This is a very tough time for the banana farmers in general and more so for those who are solely dependent on the crop, is the view expressed by all to whom IANS spoke to.
Even farmers who raise nendran variety to sell to chips makers have burnt their fingers.
“My three acre nendran crop was ready for harvest when the lockdown blocked the labour movement, closed markets and the chips makers. I am not able to harvest the produce,” P. Rangaraj a farmer told IANS from Coimbatore.
“During normal times, the produce would fetch about Rs 5 lakh per acre. This year the price was low as the produce from one acre got sold for about Rs 3 lakh and I don’t know how much I would get from the remaining three acres. There are several farmers like me,” Rangaraj said.
According to him, he will have to keep the land empty for a year so that the soil gets back its nourishment.
In the meantime, the Confederation of Farmer Producer Companies of Tamil Nadu has requested the Tamil Nadu government for a special relief package of Rs 1,000 crore for horticulture sector as compensation to revive the cultivation.
“In crop insurance it may please be noted that out of the huge sum of Rs 7,000 crore, not even two per cent claim was given to horticulture crops,” the body told the government.