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Sunday October 24, 2021

Chilli farmers peppered with problems as rains, traders bite

September 19, 2021

HYDERABAD: Sindh chilli farmers are stewing in their juices as a steep fall in market prices owing to post-harvest showers peppered them with worries as they don’t seem to be able to even recover the cost.

Kunri, Umerkot district, a major red chilli market started receiving new products by August end before rain. Then prices were hovering around Rs9000-9500/ bag (measuring 40-kg or less, depending on the varieties).

Soon after rains prices dropped, forcing farmers to sell their product at Rs4,000-7,000/ bag, reports gathered from growers said.

In result the farmers are unable to receive proper rates of their early varieties, mostly hybrid, pouring in the major market.

Some growers accused certain local traders of manipulating the market to keep out the leading food manufacturing companies and traders that buy this product in bulk for export other purposes and may benefit producers.

Mian Saleem, president Chilli Growers Association based in Kunri town, foresees the crisis arising from falling prices to deal producers big blows, which may not allow them to recover the input cost, ranging from Rs70,000-100,000/per acre.

“Input cost exceeds more than the prices of the product farmers are being offered at the market,” he said. “Farmers have spent Rs25,000-30,000/ per acre only on seeds. The cost of one small packet of red chilli seed ranges from Rs10,000—15,000 at local markets.”

Farmers required at least 12 packets for one acre, Saleem said adding that “again they are sure about the germination status of the seeds because sometimes they incur huge loss due to low germination rate”.

Saleem said previously Sindh province was a major producer of different varieties of red chilli, including traditional laungi and hybrid and receiving high rates. “But now Punjab growers have emerged as strong producers flooding the markets with their products at low rates, around Rs4,000-5,000/bag.” Compared to that, Sindh growers were selling the same varieties at Rs9,000-9,500 before rain and now at Rs4,000—7,000/bag.

Definitely, in this situation traders had a better choice to purchase the product at nominal rates, instead of bearing the high rates like Sindh growers, he said.

Sindh red chilli producing areas include Umerkot, parts of Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Sanghar, Tando Allahyar and may be other districts, which all supply their products to Kunri market at reasonable rates. This year the red chilli was cultivated on around 80,000 to 90,000 acres in these districts, Mian Saleem said.

He said Kunri is the oldest and largest chilli market of the country, contributing more products for export and meeting the need of local consumption.

“There are many food companies in the town that have their processing units with full capacity of grading and packing with specific brands.”

He said the provincial government had introduced the World Bank funded Sindh Agriculture Growth Project (SAGP) and many other initiatives were taken from time to time to resolve the problems of producers but the growers were mostly unaware about these kinds of interventions. “The reason is they have never been oriented about these programmes to get benefits,” Saleep said.

Ghulam Hussain Khaskheli, a small-scale chilli producer from Kaloi, Tharparkar district, who has cultivated both, traditional laungi and hybrid varieties, said initial prices of the product went up to Rs9,000—Rs9,500/ bag. About the drop in price, Khaskheli said besides monopoly of traders, the rain also impacted the prices badly.

He said last year rains and flood in September had caused losses to the chilli and cotton in the wide areas of Umerkot, Mirpurkhas, and parts of Badin and other districts. This year again the rainfall in September hit the standing crops and contaminated it, he added.

“Many chilli growing areas are still under the cloud and farmers seem reluctant to spread the product in the open field for drying before sale.

He said traditional laungi varieties might come to market in the first week of October and its price was expected to reach Rs16,000- 17,000/ bag because of its demand in foreign markets due to its aroma and taste.

Talking about the drying process, he said Sanam variety required four days for drying under the sun, while laungi needed 10 days for the process. “Farmers hire experienced people to take care of chilli during the drying process.”

Traders are also blamed of cutting 2.5/kg per bag instead of previously set 1.5/kg from each bag during the auction, exploiting producers.

The main Kunri market has a capacity to receive 18,000 bags daily. Presently, it receives around 700-800 daily, which could not meet the demand from Karachi and other cities to have export quality products.

Local chilli markets like Jhudo, Naokot, Tando Jan Muhammad and others receive the product and supplying the same to Kunri to meet the need of leading traders and food companies.

Sajjad Morio, who has been associated with food companies, said the traders had a monopoly at markets of all commodities and as a result producers always suffered a lot.

He said previously the provincial government had introduced the programme to strengthen the value chain, encouraging producers to sell their product to companies directly.

“But ironically these traders have spoiled this huge programme, leaving the producers in a helpless situation,” Morio said. He said last year almost all major markets and routes for export remained shut for a longtime due to Covid pandemic restrictions. “But presently, compared to that, the routes for export have been cleared and processing units are functional.”

“But the recent crisis of prices has annoyed producers, who are bearing the cost of picking, drying, packing, and loading it to the markets for very low rates.

The supply flow of the product is slow but the producers seem unable to get a proper price to recover the cost of cultivation.

The growers pleaded that the trading mechanism should be checked by the concerned government authorities and it must ensure the rates as per the product quality. In case of damages by nature the growers must be compensated to save the people associated with the agriculture, a major sector of economy.