2020 a forgettable year for Prakasam’s farmers

Untimely rains, a lockdown and a cyclone put paid to their hopes of a good harvest

The year 2020 began on a sour note for the farming community in drought-prone Prakasam district, thanks to unseasonal rains in January.

To further compound matters, the year ended on an even worse note with Cyclone Nivar flattening crops in over 2.25 lakh acres, leaving all sections of farmers in heavy losses. Not a single section of farmers, be it growers of red gram or cotton or tobacco or chilli or bengal gram, were spared by the weather gods.

In between, the COVID-induced lockdown pushed the farmers to the edge as it coincided with the peak of the marketing season for tobacco, chilli and bengal gram, among other commercial crops.

Hopes of farmers in perennially drought-prone district soared as they received timely rains, and began cultivation of various crops in earnest after a dry spell of eight years in the last decade.

But when the skies opened up, the wet spell continued unabated both during the Khariff and Rabi cropping seasons, leaving the farmers to grapple with the ever-increasing cost of farm inputs and fluctuating fortunes at the agri-markets. This too at a time when they were yet to adapt to the three Farm Acts enacted by the Centre.

The January rains put paid to the hopes of tobacco growers, adversely affecting grade outturn as well as productivity. Then came the lockdown to combat coronavirus during the peak of marketing season in summer, recalls All India Kisan Sangarsh Coordination Committee district convener Ch. Ranga Rao. Just when the growers were struggling to find buyers, the State government, for the first time in several years, directed MarkFed to intervene in the market and provided them the much-needed relief.

Chilli growers were also in an unenviable position as heavy rains dashed their hopes of taking advantage of the buoyancy in the market which had remained subdued in the previous years but went northwards thanks to increase in demand for the spice crop globally.

Though Asia’s biggest chilli market in neighbouring Guntur district remained shut during the early phase of the lockdown, traders made personal visits to the farms and cold storage units to lap whatever available stock was there with farmers. Encouraged by this, the farmers grew the spice crop in a big way.

“We spent sleepless nights in the wake of the virus attack on our crops . The untimely rains in December dashed all their hopes of getting any decent returns,” lamented a chilli grower R. Venkata Subbaiah from Pamidpadu village.

Farmers who have taken up red gram cultivation in a big way in the district, where Khariff and Rabi cropping seasons overlap, are at their wits’ end as the crop had suffered irreparable damage in the wake of continuous rains.

The government should immediately release input subsidy and settle crop insurance claims without delay for the ryots to go for replantation of tobacco and other crops wherever possible and recoup the losses at least partially, said Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam district secretary Vadde Hanuma Reddy.

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