Around 5,000 cashew nut growers in Tripura are facing hard times as there are no buyers for their farm produce due to lockdown and COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though the harvest season is on, the growers said they are not harvesting the cashew nuts as there are no buyers.
“The cashew nuts in the fields are rotting and we are not harvesting them because no buyer has approached us for buying so far”, said Bhajan Das, a cashew nut grower from Rajnagar village in South Tripura district, 90 km from here.
Tripura has nearly 5,000 listed cashew nut growers, of which 3,000 are from Rajnagar block alone. With lockdown on, most of the growers now want the state government to purchase the nuts from them at a minimum support price (MSP) as there are no buyers.
Pranab Das, another cashew nut grower of the village, said the price for cashew nuts have dropped this year due to lockdown and COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year no dealer from Kolkata has come to buy our produces. We sold cashew at Rs 120 per kg wholesale rate. Our product quality is good. But with COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, none has approached us so far. Taking this opportunity some local businessmen are trying to purchase our products at a cheaper price, which is not acceptable to us,” Pranab said.
Rajnagar, Satchand and Rupaichari Rural Development Blocks and few adjoining localities are known for cashew nut cultivation. Among them, Rajnagar alone has 1,800 hectares of land under cashew nut cultivation. As most of the areas are upland and small hillocks, it does not favour paddy cultivation or other major cash crops.
For the majority of villagers here, cashew nut cultivation is the main source of livelihood though a large section of them have shifted to rubber cultivation in the last few years due to dwindling prices and high investment in cashew nut cultivation.
Rajnagar Block Development Officer Swarup Kumar Paul said most of the cashew nut growers manage their crops on their own without government benefits.
“We have put forward a proposal to the department of Industries for setting up of cashew nut processing units here. It is not entirely true that raw cashew nuts arent sold. They sell, but fetch a low price to the growers”, the BDO said.
When contacted, local MLA and CPI(M) leader Sudhan Das said cashew nut production was encouraged during the erstwhile Left Front government. However, he claimed the cashew nut has been fetching lower rates each year since the last two crop seasons, which might have pushed many farmers to shift from cashew nut to rubber cultivation.
They (growers) sold cashew nuts to traders at Rs 125 per kg in 2017. In 2018, the rate came down to Rs 60. Many of them are forced to sell their produce at Rs 35 per kg this year. The Left Front government used to fix a minimum rate to ensure the farmers didnt face loss. But since the incumbent government didnt take any step in this regard in the last two years, farmers face huge loss”, Das told PTI.
The CPI(M) MLA said he had written to Tripura Agriculture Minister Pranajit Singha Roy seeking his intervention to ensure a minimum price for cashew nut growers.
While Singha Roy wasnt available for his comments on the subject, West Tripura Lok Sabha MP and BJP leader Pratima Bhowmik said she supports the idea of setting up a cashew nut processing factory.
“The BJP-led government was formed here only two years back. I am aware of the problems related to the issue and I feel there is a need to set up a processing unit in the area. Lets see what can be done”, she said.
However, according to horticulture experts, cashew nuts have a much higher shelf life compared to vegetables and fruits like pineapples.
“There is some problem regarding sale of cashew nuts. Its natural because lockdown has affected all trades, not only cashew nuts. The problem is global. Cashew nuts have a higher shelf life than most other easily perishable products like fruits and vegetables.
“The growers can simply dry the nuts in the sun and store them at their homes for now. After condition improves, they can hopefully sell them and get higher price”, said former Director of Horticulture and Chairman of Tripura Wakf Board, Baharul Islam.