Ukhrul: Along with migrant workers, farmers are among the worst hit by the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The situation is especially dire in the hilly regions of the Northeast, and Ukhrul farmers are among those who have been by the double whammy of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown.
The farmers’ pain was highlighted by a 31-year-old organic farmer from the Ukhrul district, Shangshawung Huileng, who, along with thousands of farmers, is struggling to find buyers and consumers for their vegetable produce.
After returning from Chennai in 2019, Huileng ventured into organic farming at Halang village, about 10 km from the Ukhrul district headquarters. Since then, he has been one of the major vegetable providers, especially cabbage, to hotels and restaurants in the Ukhrul town.
However, not only have vegetable prices dropped, Huileng like many other Ukhrul farmers is unable to find buyers even at low costs since hotels, restaurants, and local eating outlets are closed in light of the pandemic.
“This year, I planted 10,000 saplings of cabbage. And each cabbage plant could produce at least 1 kg. However, with this situation, I might face huge losses if I can’t find buyers on time,” said Huileng with a heavy heart.
Huileng also informed that he is in talks with the Manipur Organic Mission Agency (MOMA) to hopefully find a solution for himself and other Ukhrul farmers.
The labour charge and transportation expenses are higher in the hill region due to the terrain when compared to the Imphal region. Moreover, Huileng added, this was an off-season for cabbage in the district, so the cost of the products is also different.
During the off-season, he sells the cabbage for between Rs 25-30 per kg, whereas it comes down to Rs 20 per kg if buyers buy it from the farm.
However, with no place to sell, he has been forced to feed the cabbage to the fish. “I am feeding at least 50 Kgs of cabbages to them (fish) every day, he said.
According to Huileng, the recent spells of rain also compounded the problem for Ukhrul farmers as locally grown vegetables, especially the ripe ones, are prone to spoil or rot faster.
Apart from cabbage, Huileng is also investing in various other vegetable farming like beans, brinjal, besides fish and poultry farming (country chicken). But for now, he remains clueless about what he would do with the produce. Farmers across the district are facing the same dilemma.