India’s top quality dry grapes (raisins) are produced in Vijayapura district of northern Karnataka yet the farmers here are not getting better rates in the absence of marketing infrastructure — an issue which the growers want BJP or Congress to resolve if it comes to power this time. Assembly polls in the state are scheduled on May 10.
Bijapur was renamed as Vijayapura in 2014, immediately after the Narendra Modi government came to power at the Centre. Vijayapura district has eight assembly constituencies including Bableshwar and Vijayapura city. And the political representation in the current assembly is more or less distributed equally– the ruling BJP and Congress having 3 MLAs each while JD(S) represents two other segments. Till a few years back, the main problem the farmers faced in the dry belt of this agrarian district was irrigation, which the incumbent Congress MLA M B Patil from the Bableshwar assembly constituency addressed when he was water resources minister in 2013.
Now that water has reached most of the farm lands in the district, the grape productivity and acreage have increased in the last few years. This has created a new problem for them –marketing.
”Earlier, I tried digging 20 borewells as deep as 1,000 feet in six acres of my land but could not find water. After 2013, water supply was ensured through a canal from nearby Krishna Barrage. This helped fill water in tanks and 18 British era bandera storage points,” said Shammuka Mathapati, a grape grower from Tikota village in Bableshwar assembly constituency.
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Assured irrigation has not only helped save at least Rs 1 lakh per acre expense on the tank water supply but also improved productivity. This encouraged more farmers to go for grapes cultivation in this region leading to higher production, he said.
”Now the headache is marketing,” Mathapati’s son Sachin said, adding most of the dry grapes produced here is sold through middlemen in neighbouring Maharashtra which has better cold storage units with auction facilities. At Tikota, there is only one private storage unit of 1,000 tonne capacity, which is not sufficient to meet the demand as about 20,000 tonne marketed from here, he said. Another grower S V Kodnapur from the same village who owns five acres of grape orchard, said, the cost of production has risen so much.
”On top of it the expenses towards transportation, storage and commissions to be paid in Maharashtra markets leave us with hardly any returns.”
After several demands, an online auction mandi for dry grapes was opened in Vijayapur city a few years back but farmers faced many problems as the rate difference was huge from one lot to another even though dry grapes were grown in the same plot, he said. Middlemen were taking GST, which they were supposed to pay, from farmers. This discouraged farmers and forced them to sell dry grapes through middlemen in the border areas of Maharashtra, he added.
The closure of the only food processing unit near Tikota village has also stopped export, else farmers would have got better rates, he said and added, ”we are ready to supply export quality dry grapes if a food processing unit comes up here.”
Vijayapura district contributes 75 per cent of Karnataka’s total dry grapes production of 75,000 tonne. Karnataka is the second highest producer of dry grapes after Maharashtra in the country. The state has a total cold storage facility of 25,000-28,000 tonnes for dry grapes.
According to Karnataka Grapes Growers Association President K H Mamda Reddy, irrigation has helped increase area under grapes cultivation to 75,000 acres in Vijayapura district from 40,000 acres. In Bableshwar alone, grape farming has been taken up on 25,000 acres.
”The quality of dry grapes grown in Vijayapura is best in the country, yet farmers are not getting better rates. Due to shortage of storage units and auction mandis, about 50,000 tonnes of dry grapes are taken to Sangli and Solapur in Maharashtra as they have better marketing facilities which are open throughout the week, while it is once a week here,” he said.
He also said the top quality dry grapes rates are ruling at Rs 250 per kg, but farmers here are getting only Rs 125-150 per kg and the cost of production amid rise in prices of crop inputs and labour is not covered. An auction centre in Vijayapura is functional but farmers have to bear heavy GST burden which middlemen take from their basic price.
Though a small quantity of export is taking place from here, not many buyers are keen to come due to lack of market infrastructure, poor road and flight connectivity, he said. As a result, most of the buyers and sellers visit Tasgaon in Sangli district, where the country’s 60 per cent of the dry grapes production is auctioned. There are 120-odd cold storage units out there, he added.
As both BJP and Congress candidates are busy canvassing for the elections, grape growers in this region are pinning their hopes on a food park sanctioned in Ittangihal village in Bableshwar assembly constituency and urging them to ensure early completion of this project if they come to power and provide relief.
Former Minister and Congress candidate from Bableshwar Patil blamed the Central government policy for crash in prices of dry grapes from to Rs 120 per kg but assured he will fast-track the project if the Congress government comes to power in Karnataka.