HP NEWS SERVICE
Shillong, Jul 3: Farmers in East Khasi Hills lament and make distress sales as the middlemen make off with the major profits off their hard work. The price of cabbage in the farmers’ fields has hit an all time low of Rs.3 per kilogram while the cost of inputs like seeds, fertilisers has gone higher.
The price of cabbage has never gone lower than Rs 15 per kilogram in the past, farmers said.
Cabbage, for example, is bought at the field by middlemen at Rs. 3 per kilogram but as all city consumers know, these are then sold at the rate of Rs. 20 to Rs. 40 in the markets of the capital and elsewhere.
Other vegetables like potato fares no better, though the price is still somewhat reasonable. However, this is a moot point as only ‘richer’ farmers can afford to cultivate potatoes.
It is of little wonder then that rural leaders are calling for a platform to discuss these issues and seek urgent government intervention. Otherwise, they say the farmers will not be able to survive through this current crisis.
“We have never seen so much exploitation of farmers as we are seeing now. There are people taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic rules and protocols. We strongly believe that there is a cartel at work which is working to keep down the prices at the farmers level while there is no control of the prices in the markets,” said Pynshongdor L. Nongbri, the general secretary of the Dorbar Shnong Smit Pyllun.
He told the Highland Post that one just needs to analyse the situation: farmers are working hard and producing, there is a big demand for vegetables, not much is coming in from outside the State, the prices are high in the urban markets and yet the farmers are being forced by traders to sell at a pittance from their fields.
“We are very disturbed with these trends. The society cannot prosper on the hard work of the farmers. No economic prosperity can be said to be progressive if it leaves the farmers in deeper poverty and debt,” he said.
Nongbri said that it is very clear now with the lockdown effect, it is the rural economy of the State that is supporting the urban areas.
“Without the production of vegetables and fruits by the State’s farmers, there would be nothing much in the city markets. But even then the rural farmers are still in doldrums. We have to tackle this point,” Nongbri said.
Urging the State government to create platforms where the farmers can discuss their problems with them so that the issues can be solved, Nongbri expressed surprise that the State’s farmers are in dire straits and forced to make distress sales whereas the situation of farmers in other states of the country is improving.
A drive from Smit to Thynroit village which is another hub of cabbage cultivation yesterday revealed that the fields are full and harvesting is going on to load a few mini-trucks here and there.
However, farmers say that they were forced to sell at the rate of Rs. 3 per kilogram. If they didn’t sell at this price demanded by the buyer, their crop would rot in the field.
“We are not getting any profit from our hard work. We cannot sell our vegetables at the proper price,” lamented S Nongrum, a farmer at Iew Smit, one of the main rural marketing centers in East Khasi Hills.
Iew Smit is a major rural market that is one of the drivers of the economy of rural Khasi Hills. She said that the buyers have to be called and coaxed to come and buy. Nongrum and other farmers had to call buyers several times and most of the time they refused to come. When persuaded to come they would not give more than Rs. 3 a kilogram for the cabbages, she said.
Other farmers spoken to said that the buyers also come from Assam. However, though the demand is there, it did not make any difference on the rates. Another farmer told this reporter that the farmers are going into debt. “There are no buyers. They are not allowed to come beyond a certain point,” he said.
In the pre-Covid-19 times, he said there was Ïewduh where buyers competing to buy the crops ensured that the prices did not fall below a certain point. Not that it was much better, but at least it was better than the situation they are facing now, he said.
Farmers in the State are being ripped off and cheated far more now under Covid-19 pandemic conditions, said several other persons spoken to.
They alleged that middlemen are taking a joyride on the farmers back while the government pats itself on the back claiming all is well in the agricultural sector.