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Strawberry, watermelon, vegetable farmers facing heavy losses

By Shambhu Boro

GORMARA (DHEKIAJULI), April 17 - The outbreak of coronavirus and a freeze in the freight and logistics industry that followed the pandemic has led to a collective loss of lakh of rupees for the strawberry-growing farmers at Garmara area some 20 km away from Dhekiajuli town in Sonitpur district.

It is to be mentioned here the lesser known Gormara-Santipur area in Dhekiajuli LAC in Sonitpur district has become a focal point of strawberry cultivation. The remote hamlet inhabited by people of the Boro community, is a major attraction for all concerned including officials from the Agriculture department and the media. A number of educated unemployed youths including a progressive farmer Phukan Boro have taken up commercial cultivation of strawberry in a big way indicating prestigious a way of livelihood to many unemployed youths of the area.

The major issue of this area is that due to various reasons, including insurgency, the unemployed youths and the school dropouts of the greater area, either went outside the State seeking employment or joined the insurgents. A huge generation gap was created in this belt in the recent past. But positive thinking of youths like Phukan Boro bucked the trend to some extent. Interacting with this correspondent, Phukan Boro mentioned that for many strawberry-growing farmers of this area the time between January and April is particularly joyous as their produce is transported and sold to wholesale markets from where it reaches the consumers. �But this year, things are not so rosy. We produced quintals of strawberry and readied them to be supplied to our markets, but we couldn�t do that following lockdown across the country. Huge quantities of strawberries have perished leading to a heavy loss,� he lamented. He added that strawberry prices have dropped this year to about Rs 300/250 from the original price Rs 400 to 500 per kg. But still there are no takers due to non-availability of distribution channels and partial close down of transportation.

Not only this, several other farmers in this belt are struggling to sell their produce. Just like strawberry growers, watermelon farmers of Barbil and Saraka Baligaon area under Dhekiajuli LAC are also facing severe trouble in selling watermelons. Many farmers alongwith some jobless youths in this area have been cultivating watermelon covering bighas of silted barren land, turning those into green field on the bank of Gabharu river. However, this year due to the lockdown, a huge quantity of their harvest are perishing on the fields.

Dambaru Soren, a watermelon farmer of the area said that as vehicles are not available for transport, their watermelons are perishing on the fields leading to huge losses. �The current situation will impact the small acreage farmers more as such farmers take loans from various sources like Bank, SHGs for farming. They will not be able to repay the crop loan they had borrowed and even might not be able to spare money for the next season,� Soren mentioned.

According to Jugal Nath, an organic farmer of Sivamandir-Gerua area near here, who grows a variety of vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, brinjal, potato, onion, ginger, pumpkin etc., in an organic way with a sizable amount of turnover every year, prices have come crashing down. �Though a few days back with the due permission of Sonitpur district administration, we tried to provide home delivery services of our pure and organic produce in Tezpur town area, we have not received the required response,� Jugal mentioned adding that beside him a number of indigenous vegetable farmers might face a collective loss if the situation remains the same.

The conditions are more severe for the local tomato farmers in Jamuguri area under Sootea LAC. Tomatoes are in the market in this season and the farmers sell at around Rs 50/40. But, now their prices have also dwindled significantly as they are now selling at Rs 5 or 10 per kg due to the lack of required market. It has also been reported that some banana sellers and farmers in Rangasakwa area are throwing away their crops as these rot. The farmers whose livelihood is at stake now have sought adequate compensation from the government so that they get respite from their losses.

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