In the wake of the lockdown imposed across India, the grape and pomegranate farmers from Maharashtra are witnessing unprecedented losses.
Sangli is the second largest district involved in grape cultivation in the state with the crop spread over 1,10,000 acres. Nasik tops the list in Maharashtra with 2,25,000 acres of land under grape cultivation. Both the districts were badly hit by the heavy monsoon.
"We have lost both the seasons. There are farmers who get good money in the normal season of November to January. But, as both seasons are lost, many farmers are facing a serious financial crisis this year," said Shankar Kolte Patil of Nasik, an award-winning grape grower.
When the grape market collapses, farmers turn to raisins. It ensures return of at least the production cost with 100 kg of grapes turned into 25 kg of raisins. But farmers are facing trouble on this front as well, as they need dipping oil and potassium carbonate to make raisins. These two products are usually imported from China.
The long monsoon of almost five months last year had destroyed the crops of many pomegranate farmers as well. Whatever they had managed to save was being sold until before the COVID-19 outbreak.
"People are selling fruits of international quality in their local, village markets at throwaway prices. The number one quality pomegranate which gets up to Rs 100 (€1.20) per kg is now being sold at Rs 20 per kg in weekly markets of nearby villages. This is so less that even production cost is unlikely to be recovered," said a grower from Mangalvedha, Solapur.
A key demand by these grapes and pomegranate growers is that the government must waive their EMIs of loans for at least one year. Many expressed fear that if the lockdown is extended beyond May 3, no relief for the growers can be seen on the horizon.