There seems to be no end to the woes of the farmers of Lahaul-Spiti. Earlier, they had lost their apple crop due to early snowfall from September 22 to 24. On Thursday, fresh snowfall buried the potato crop, which was ready for harvesting. A few days ago, some farmers had started harvesting the potato crop, but bad weather forced them to stall the work. Little did they know that they might lose it too.
Budhi Chand, a resident of Triloknath in Lahaul, said, “Bad weather is hampering the process. We have already gone through a lot due to early snowfall and now things are not getting any better. Apple orchards suffered 100 per cent damage in Lahaul.”
Even though the process of harvesting potatoes in the entire region has not fully begun till now, the value of the new crop of potato has already fallen by Rs. 1,000 per quintal in just four days. This will in turn incur huge losses for the farmers. The price of potato crop has come down from Rs. 3,500 in the market, directly to Rs. 2,300.
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Every year, Lahaul- Spiti valley remains isolated from rest of the world for almost 6 months and farming is the main source of income for 99 per cent of the population. Due to heavy snowfall, they can only grow one crop at a time and the main two crops grown in the region are potatoes and apples. While apple farming in the region is a more recent venture, potatoes have been grown in the region since a long time.
The more rapid shift from potatoes to apples can be attributed to a lot of factors which mainly include the government’s apathy towards the farmers in the tribal district. For instance, Raju, a local farmer from Shansha area in Lahaul told Newsclick, “We don’t have mandis. We grow our crop and traders from outside come and buy our crops directly from us. If they don’t come, we sell it locally, keep some for ourselves and throw away the rest.”
Sudarshan Jaspa, Convenor of Lahaul Kisan Ghati Manch told Newsclick , “There are no government trading societies. For the longest time, Lahaul Potato Society (LPS) was the only society which was formed by the government and that is where we used to sell our crops. Over the years, the condition of LPS has gotten worse. Corruption charges against officials of the LPS too, left the farmers in a tight spot.”
Private societies are created by local people which buy the crops from farmers and further take them to different markets to sell. Local farmers like Zagatar Singh, Pawan Saini, Shashi Kumar, Darbara Singh and Prakash Chand, said that due to falling prices of potatoes, they are set to suffer lakhs of rupees and the farmers are worried because of this.
Not only this, recently, the farmers faced the brunt of a Gazette notification stating the ban of “seed potato” (one of the two varieties grown in the district) from Himachal Pradesh due to the presence of Potato Cyst Nematode. The notification came only when the potato crop was ready for harvesting. Distressed farmers sent a delegation to meet the agriculture minister Ram Lal Markanda regarding the same after which Lahaul-Spiti’s name was removed from the notification.
This did not end their misery though. Jaspa told Newsclick, “Even though Lahaul’s name was removed from the notification after we sent our samples for clearance, word got out in the market that there was virus in our potatoes and buyers refused to buy those potatoes. Traders come here and give some advance cash to farmers, take the crop and sell them in the market. After that they come back and pay them rest of the money. These are private traders and are mainly from Punjab. Now due to snowfall, roads are blocked and they can not come, so this is not an option. The other option is to sell the crop locally- in Manali and Kullu but because now the name is spoiled, there is no demand for that and therefore, private societies too are not buying these potatoes. Government should compensate for this because neither the local traders are at fault nor the farmers.”
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While some farmers did manage to harvest their potato crop and sell them for a reasonable price, the interior belt (Pattan Belt) of the region comprising mainly of Mayadh Ghati and Todh Ghati are yet to harvest their crop. The farmers have reported that their crop has already gotten affected due to untimely snowfall. The entire Pattan Belt makes for 25-30 percent of the total potato crop in the state and the variety of potatoes grown in that region are not seed potatoes.
“This time farmers weren’t spared by anyone. Neither nature nor the government. Farmers who grow apples also faced the same thing. At least 99 percent apple crop was damaged in September and now the same thing has happened with our potatoes. People who harvested before grew seed potatoes- which nobody is buying, people who grow other varieties, their crop is damaged. How the government neglects such a huge district which is entirely dependent on agriculture to sustain for the entire 5-6 months when we are cut off from the rest of the world is beyond anyone’s understanding,” Jaspa told Newsclick.