ONION FARMERS IN A QUANDARY

16 October 2012 11:04 pm - 3     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Karunawathi and her daughters are seated under the shade of a tree, chopping the green ends of onions. They had only cleaned half the mound of uprooted onions.  A warm, dry breeze sweeps past, stirring the dust and clouding their eyes. “Most of the onions are rotting and the others are bearing shoots. So now we cut off the shoots and dry them in the sun to preserve them. But this is temporary . . .  If this lot cannot be sold within the coming week, we would have to throw them away,” Karunawathi says, pointing to the pile of onions with green shoots sticking out of the rosy-coloured bulbs.

Despite the drought and some of the crops destroyed by wild elephants, the harvest has been abundant for Karunawathi. Usually, a full harvest would bring her joy, but this year it has brought her great distress. They had begun harvesting a few weeks ago, but until now she has not been able to sell her yield.
Karunawathi is not alone in this plight. Most of the onion farmers in her village in Gedigaswalana, in the backwoods of Habarana and also the nearby villages are agitated, struggling against time as they attempt to sell their crops before it turns to waste.

Buddhika Sampath, another onion farmer faced with the same problem says, “Our crops are usually purchased by the Dambulla Economic Centre; a kilo priced at Rs. 45 – 50.  But this year, due to the abundance of crops, the purchasing of onions has stopped. Now we have to depend on Sathosa, which is not of much help because we have been informed that ‘Nasi’ crops – the Indian variety will not be purchased.”

Few farmers have cultivated ‘Lanka’ seeds, but most had resorted to ‘Nasi’ because of the cost factor. According to the aggrieved farmers, a kilo of Nasi seeds is between Rs. 3000 – 3500 whereas ‘Lanka’ seeds cost nearly Rs. 16,000 a kilo.

Sathosa has offered to buy only the crops of ‘Lanka’ seeds, 2000 kilos of onion per farmer, at a rate of Rs. 35 - 40 per kilo, which the farmers say is quite low in comparison to last year’s Rs.65 per kilo. The produce of only seven farmers is purchased daily and each farmer is given only one chance per month to sell their yield to Sathosa.

“During the past, Sathosa visited the villages to purchase crops but now we have to bring the produce to the Agrarian Services Centres to sell them,” Sampath said, complaining it incurred an extra cost of nearly Rs. 3500 per trip.  Since only seven farmers’ produce is purchased per day, they have to be on a waiting list to get their yields estimated for purchase by a Sathosa agent.

“We have taken loans, put our lives and economies at stake to harvest . . .  Without help from the government to sell our yield, we have no idea how we are going to manage this year,” he said.

In almost every house in Gedigaswalana, mounds of rotting onions were a common sight. In this village, about six and half kilos of seeds had been cultivated with a yield of about 11 tonnes, of which most had already decayed.   

H. M. Jayasinghe, a farmer who had cultivated ‘Lanka’ seeds was also bidding at the Kimbissa Agrarian Services Centre, waiting for his turn to get his crops considered for purchase by the Sathosa agent.

“I have visited this office five times since I harvested. I got only one chance to get my crops weighed and just when I was hopeful of being able to sell at least a part of my crops, the agent sorted the produce and informed me that I had included Indian onions and rejected my lot. I don’t swindle and I know what I cultivated; there is not a single Indian onion in my produce. However, I returned home empty handed,” he said with anger, tears welling up in his weary eyes.

Since then, Jayasinghe has been attempting to get another chance to sell his produce. He is convinced the Sathosa agents are carrying out an underhand business, purchasing onions from several middle men and depriving farmers of getting their crops sold. “The purchase limit per farmer is 2000 kilos and only seven farmers’ crops are purchased. But whether this limit is adhered to by the agent is doubtful.  The day my crops were weighed, I was the last to go and in the agent’s list I saw only four farmers’ crops had been purchased. What happened to the remaining three slots for the day?” he questioned.  

With loans and mortgages surrounding them, these farmers fear for their future.



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  Comments - 3

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  • Rasheed. Thursday, 18 October 2012 12:26 PM

    I myself an Onion Farmer from Puttalam facing the dame life and death situation. Unless the Agri Dept. control the crop and manage sustainably avoiding everybody planting the same thng at the same time will bring us hope. Further, The government should STOP importing Onions when local harvest comes into market. Due to imported onions we cannot sell to recover our costs. When in debt we have no option but to use the Pesticides.

    bandara Wednesday, 17 October 2012 11:18 AM

    Time for the gov to set up a high level management advisory unit catering to these farmers who otherwise waste their time and money for useless stuff. i would hire local management graduates topping them with a professor of economy development. no politicians and no corrupt people please.

    Cobra Wednesday, 17 October 2012 02:28 AM

    Tears in hell!


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