Kasargod: Steep fall in prices, poor yield, shortage of skilled labourers and ever mounting cultivation costs have pushed arecanut growers, who enjoyed a respectable status here in the olden days, into a debt trap.
The Centre’s steps such as imposing a hefty duty on arecanut imports have had little impact, with the price remaining abysmally low in relation to mounting costs, the farmers said.
The arecanut from Kerala’s North Malabar region and South Canara district of Karnataka was known for its high quality. The price, which was Rs200 per kg in 1999, went down to Rs50-55 a kg in 2001-02 and now fetches Rs60-70 a kg after stringent grading of the nut.
This is quite inadequate in relation to inflationary pressure and mounting labour charges, M. Ranjith, a young farmer, said.
“One can sustain only if arecanut fetches at least Rs100 per kg in view of rising expenses in taking care of trees and spraying of copper sulphate solution to prevent pest attacks,” Ranjith said.
Unlike coconut, arecanut trees have to be irrigated regularly and are more vulnerable to natural calamities.
While prices of manure and pesticides registered a steady rise over the years, successive governments have failed to provide adequate subsidy, said Mohammed Kunhi, another farmer.
Rates charged for climbing trees and extraction of arecanut from the shell have also risen. There was an acute shortage of skilled labourers as the new generation shies away from taking up the traditional job, said Ranjith.
While areca climbers’ wage is about Rs250 a day, an extra Rs300 per day has to be paid for shell extraction. The commodity has to be disposed of immediately at prevailing market rate as quality will suffer if it is exposed to moisture.
“The situation continues to worry farmers with no tangible solution in sight,” an agriculture research official said.