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Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

Farm distress poses a poll threat to Karnataka Congress

Sensing a political opportunity, BJP is promising a loan waiver if it comes to power in Karnataka

Kolar/Chikmagalur, Karnataka: Will farm distress, like it did in Gujarat for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), pose an anti-incumbency challenge to the ruling Congress regime in Karnataka?

While the jury is still out on how the harried rural segments will vote, the fact is that sections of Karnataka are facing varying forms of farm distress. While farmers in Old Mysore are facing a price rout after a bumper harvest of tomatoes, in Malnad the crisis is due to a coconut crop failure.

Sensing a political opportunity the principal opposition, the BJP, has focused on the distress including a farm loan waiver if elected to power. The incumbent Congress, on the other hand, is seeking to mitigate the political fallout by showcasing its own track record in dealing with distress in Karnataka.

“We are facing huge losses because there is no demand this year. Last year, we used to get anything between Rs700-800 for 15 kilograms of tomatoes but this year prices have crashed because of good production of tomatoes and we are only getting Rs80-100 for 15 kilograms," said Mehboob Khan, 30-year-old owner of SN Trading company at the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) yards in Kolar district.

The lack of demand from neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana has only exacerbated the problem.

“We used to get orders from Kolkata, Delhi, Haryana but so far it has not happened. We used to also export tomatoes to Pakistan and Bangladesh till last year but this year again there are no orders. In 2017, we used to load 200-250 small trucks everyday but the situation this year is that we only load 50-60 small trucks," said Chowdappa V., a 47-year-old traders at APMC in Kolar.

In Malnad, which covers districts near the Western Ghats, farmers feel that cash crop cultivation, particularly coconut, has been hit by drought in the area and lack of water has resulted in poor produce.

“We grow coconut in our farms and the area has been drought hit. If you go around and see, rows and rows of coconut cultivation has gone bad because of loss of water. We feel that neither the state nor the Union government has offered any help to us," said K.H. Ranganathan, a farmer who grows coconut and arecanut in Saraswathipura village in Kadur seat of Chikmagalur district.

“Tomato every year for 8-10 months, the prices are good. Every year for two months the prices crash... They lose money during that time but they may make it up in another crop. It has been going on 25 years. Same story plays out every year. One – one-and-a-half month cumulatively where the prices crash. Farm distress is there. We have managed it better through loan waiver, various set of measures. Siddaramaiah also has a better connectivity on the issue. He has a natural connect with farmers," Karnataka agriculture minister Krishna Byre Gowda told Mint in an interview published on Sunday.

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