The cardamom planters of Theni district who own small farms in neighbouring Idukki district of Kerala are staring at a bleak future amid the countrywide lockdown. Around 40,000 daily wage workers depending on these lands have lost their jobs due to the lockdown and may remain jobless for months if the plants are not saved during the summer. Several hundred cardamom planters are unable to reach their farms to water them and spray pesticides, mandatory every 22 days.
The farmers who own lands ranging between one and three acres are expecting the Tamil Nadu government to seek the cooperation of Kerala in getting permission to reach their farms. But, much to their disappointment, the Theni district administration continues to ignore their demands.
‘LOSS WILL CONTINUE FOR TWO- THREE YEARS’
With the state borders closed, the planters and the labourers are banned to cross over to save the plants from withering. The government of Kerala has permitted the labourers to work in the cardamom plantations with restrictions. Two workers can work in one acre of plantation at a time to water and spray pesticides. The planters belonging to Tamil Nadu are expecting the same exemption to save their plants. These plants were severely affected during the landslides and heavy rains in Kerala during 2018 and were slowly recovering.
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Suresh Babu, who owns plantations in Idukki district, while speaking to NewsClick said, “If we don’t water the plants during the summer, the plants will wither down. The cardamom plants take two to three years to grow to give yield. So if we don't save the plants now, we won't get any yields in the next couple of years and have to invest all again in planting new saplings.”
‘IDENTIFY FARMERS TO REACH FIELDS’
The planters are well aware of the risk of crossing over to the neighbouring state amid the lockdown. They have demanded the district administration to identify the planters and permit them to reach their fields after discussing with their Idukki counterparts. “We know that permitting all the labourers and planters to cross the borders is a huge risk and is not at all possible now. But if the district administration can make arrangements, in discussion with the Idukki administration, and permit the planters and at least one or two labourers with them, then the damage can be limited,” Lenin, a small planter based in Cumbum in Theni district, told NewsClick.
He also explained that the process of planting and growing up the cardamom plants are much more painstaking than many other cash crops. Cardamom is harvested during July to December for which various activities are vital during the months of April and May. At the event of the plants withering, the planters are set to lose one to one and a half lakh rupees per acre, from which recovery is a herculean task.
LABOURERS LOSE JOBS
Around 50% of the small and marginal cardamom plantations in Idukki district are owned by planters of Cumbum, Cuddalore and Palayam areas of Theni district. These planters used to hire labourers from Theni to work in their fields. Approximately, 40,000 people rely on these fields for making their living. All those thousands have lost their jobs and are locked at their homes without income. These daily wage earners are not included in any of the relief measures announced by the state government.
One such worker said, “We understand the importance of the lockdown, but the government should consider our problems as well. Now, we are left with no income and if the plants are not saved, many of us may remain jobless for several more months. This situation should be addressed by the district administration and the state government.”
The farm labourers of Theni district depend largely on agriculture works in both Theni and Idukki districts. If the cardamom plantations are not saved on time, the planters and the workers will face a severe financial setback.
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