Army personnel at Raju Mahato’s farm.
Until last month, Raju Mahato, a 39-year-old farmer-cum-RBI employee, was dreading heavy losses with the Covid-19 second wave and subsequent lockdown making it difficult for him to sell most of his 135-tonne watermelon crop — grown on 6.5 acres of farmland after taking loans.
But Mahato’s eyes welled up as Army personnel from the Sikh Regimental Centre, Ramgarh Cantt, arrived to lift 5 tonnes of the fruit last week — at a time when “every government official” was only making false promises. Facing a loss of Rs 8.5 lakh, he had reached out to the Army personnel through a friend, and they decided to pay him even though he “did not want to charge them”. That night, he slept peacefully, thinking that his farm could give something to the armed forces, he said.
While Mahato found some solace, thousands of watermelon farmers in the state have suffered heavy losses. Thousands of tonnes of the fruit have been wasted as they have been unable to find buyers.
Pankaj Roy, founder of agritech platform Kissanpro Agro Technology, said that of the 2,200 watermelon farmers in his network, 50 per cent have suffered losses to the tune of 5,000 tonnes. He said each acre of drip farming costs an amount of Rs 1 lakh, which has been a heavy burden for the farmers. “It is very serious. I request the government to make an inquiry committee and at least make a list of those farmers whose loss has been in lakhs… they should again arrange capital for agricultural work,” Roy said.
In the last week of May, Agriculture Minister Badal Patralekh had asked his department to make committees and look into issues faced by watermelon farmers, but help is yet to reach them. Abu Bakar Siddique, Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Cooperatives, said that they “tried helping the farmers”, but there were “a lot of issues”. “We spoke to Bihar, West Bengal and other states, but they could not take it (watermelon crop) because they had sufficient quantities. We also linked the farmers to 28 co-operatives among others. But the learning is that we need Food Processing Industries and we are coordinating with the Industries Department for future solutions.”
However, around 50 km from the state’s capital, Sabita Devi, an Ajeevika Krishi Mitra in Khunti’s Murhu block, said she contacted members of the cooperatives many times but could not get any help for the 65 watermelon farmers in her locality. “Hundreds of tonnes were wasted in front of my eyes and I kept calling the committee members for help. The government lacks empathy. I hope the farmers get capital support.”