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How Grape Farmers Are Getting Affected by Covid-19 Lockdown?

Tooba Maher
Tooba Maher
Grape Farmers

Many grape farmers in Maharashtra have left their grapes to rot on the vines as there are no labourers to harvest them. Vineyards usually require 2 labourers per acre to harvest. While 50% of the labourers are locals, the remaining are migrant labourers from the tribal areas of northern Maharashtra & Gujarat villages.

Similarly, Harshada Chavan, a grape farmer, poured out a tonne of the Super Sonaka grapes, 30 kms from the city centre of Sangli. As there was nobody to buy these grapes, she dumped them by the roadside, & hoped that they would be eaten by cattle or birds or the homeless migrants who have stayed back.

However, in a regular season, these grapes would have been taken by traders to sell in Mumbai and Pune markets. She said, "We tried to make raisins from these by putting them out to dry in the sun but they started rotting. We have lost the entire crop this year."

Across Maharashtra's grape-growing areas, there is a same situation as the bountiful grape harvest has no takers. It will not be wrong to say that the year 2019 & 2020 have hit the grape growers of Maharashtra really hard.

It started with unseasonal rain & hailstorm in September and October 2019 which left around 30% of the farmlands destroyed. March, being a peak season for harvesting grapes, started with a lockdown & led to a shortage of labour and buyers.

Ravindra Borade, President of the Nashik Division of the Maharashtra Rajya Draksh Bagaitdar Sangh (Grape Growers Association), said, "The approximate turnover of the grape cultivation industry is between Rs 2,500 and Rs 3,000 crore. As per my estimate almost 40% of this has been affected."

The state has an estimated 3 lakh hectares of farmland under grape cultivation with the Nashik belt holding for 80% of the total produce. The remaining 20% vineyards are spread across Sangli, Solapur and Pune.

When the first lot of grapes arrived in the market, in December, the fruit commanded a price of Rs 100 for a kilogram & then averaged at Rs 70 per kg. But, the current price, farmers said, is only Rs 2 per kg. Borade said, "A farmer earns a profit of around Rs 5 lakh for 10 tonnes of table variety grapes that are meant for export & most of that money is now gone this year."

Grape Farmers Affected by Covid-19:

Many of the migrant labourers have returned to their villages and the locals are scared to leave their homes. Dr Ganesh Hingmire, an agri-economist and GI consultant, said while one container of grapes has left from the Philippines, exports have largely been impacted.

Grape growers in the state, particularly in the Nashik region, have been getting a handsome price for their produce. Borade mentions that 60% of the export produce is done by big players like Sahyadri Farms & the left 40 percent is sold to about 100 independent traders who visit farms directly and fix a price. However, this year, those farmers have been hit with no traders coming to buy the grapes.

Hingmire said, "Grapes are among the worst hit in the state right now as sugar factories have got permission to operate & pulses, grains and legumes have a longer shelf life so they can stay. But, Grapes are more perishable,"

Few farmers of Sangli and Solapur decided to sun-dry their grapes & turn them into raisins to increase the longevity but it was not possible as the temperatures are not yet high enough to dehydrate the grapes.

Most of the grapes are rotting in the farms leading to a proliferation of mosquitoes and insects. Due to unseasonal rains, the past three years have been tough for grape growers, farmers said.

Borade added, "Farmers have no money left to run their homes; their liquidity is over & they have loans to repay. The government needs to help these hundreds of farmers by waiving off their loan. They can at least waiving off the interest component of these loans. Grape growing is becoming a loss-making exercise. Many farmers want to uproot their vineyards & grow something else."

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