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November 27, 2020

Tomato, chilli a hope for coastal farmers, as 90pc paan crop gets ruined

Business

November 27, 2020

HYDERABAD: Coastal farmers seem lucky for having sold their tomato and chilli crops, still standing in the fields this year. Both the valuable crops require some more days to ripen, and farmers expect to start picking by December 15, 2020.

Aziz Baloch, a farmer in Sakro, Thatta district said the demand of tomato and chilli in the market might have motivated traders to purchase it directly from the fields for Rs500,000-800,000/acre, depending on yield.

This year tomato and chilli crops in coastal areas were cultivated two months late. First, the farmers had cultivated in August and September, expecting to get product in October. However, that was ruined by the ravaging rains and floods.

Then the farmers cultivated both vegetables in late October. In November they started receiving higher rates for the crops in the fields.

A few farmers said they do not understand the marketing mechanism. Sometimes, the crops do not fetch proper rates after ripening, and growers have to discard tomato and chilli in the fields.

Usually, growers themselves take the product to the market, bearing the cost of picking, packing, loading and transportation. But this year things are different, and farmers sold their crops in advance, Baloch said.

Despite delayed cultivation, Baloch said vegetable traders have purchased almost the entire crop of tomato and chilli in advance. Coastal farmers contribute more vegetables to Karachi than other areas.

But due to weather ups and downs, they always experience problems, and at times cannot even recover losses.

Tomato, chilli and other vegetables are three-month crops, which always benefit farmers, as the market in Karachi is more accessible to them for quick supply compared to producers in other areas.

The recent rain flood, which started in the month of September 2020, had also caused destruction of paan farms. The farmers calculate around 90 percent loss out of 20,000 acres, forcing majority of farmers to shift their hands to alternatives.

Many paan farmers have cultivated vegetables, pleading that they cannot afford to revive the crop because of increasing cost of cultivation, including high rates of seedlings.

The reason they (farmers) mention is unavailability of seedling at rational rates in the area. For example, earlier one seedling plant was available at Rs100-200. Now it is being sold at Rs800-Rs1,000/plant.

Betel farming has two seasons starting from April, May, June and July and the other starts in September, October and November. Farmers get seedlings from nearby farms and each acre requires 1,000-1,500 plants, depending on size.

Adam Jayaro, a folklore writer, local journalist and community activist of Keti Bunder, said the rain disaster had badly affected all crops, and only a few farmers might have saved their crops. That is why the cost of paan seedling has increased manifold forcing farmers to think twice to continue producing betel leaves.

As a result, majority of farmers seem unable to revive paan. They know that establishing a betel farm needs a bigger investment, as once it is planted, the producers can earn for the next 35 years, unless disasters or disease damage the crop.

Betel leaves are a major cash crop for coastal farmers, who have their pieces of lands in the area where this plant may grow properly. Producers usually earn Rs400,000-500,000 per acre from paan.

For paan, there is no issue of marketing, packing and loading for main market of Karachi and Thatta. This betel plants grow in coastal areas, mainly in Thatta because of the pleasant weather.

The current consumption of betel leaf in the country is reportedly estimated at around five million kilograms, but it has more demand. Some farmers believe that the value of betel leaf can be measured from the fact that in major cities of the country including Karachi, Lahore, and northern parts it is being sold at high rates, depending on quality.

In case of destruction of this major product, Pakistan may spend huge cost on importing betel leaves from other countries. Betel leaves are considered to have significant medicinal properties and nutritional value, and have a high demand in the urban markets of the country.

Besides paan, the coastal areas contribute a variety of vegetables like tomato, chilli, ridged gourd, pumpkin, cucumber and other food items to the major markets of Karachi. However, the coastal farmers experienced huge losses this year due to the devastating rains.

Janyaro said coastal farmers always face problems because of instability of weather, including rain flood, water scarcity, high tides, and increasing warnings of cyclones.

Previously, banana crop was attractive for farmers, but they could not maintain it due to the acute water shortage in the area. Betel was considered the second major crop after banana in the coastal area due to productivity and income generation. But in the present scenario, both major crops, banana and betel leaves have become low priority for farmers.

There are a few growers, who wanted to cultivate wheat for their own consumption. Otherwise, the majority of farmers depend on a variety of vegetables, mainly tomato and chilli.

Paan farmers get around 1,000-1,500kg each year, depending on garden care. It has two harvest seasons one starts from April to August while the second from October to January.

Paan farmers said during previous year they found the months of November and December (2019) better in terms of prices, as they received higher rates of up to Rs3,000 to Rs3,500/kg.

There are three varieties - Sanchi, Ceylon and Pakistani. All three are valued and priced differently depending on freshness, flavour, and quality.