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Kishore Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2017-05-18

Hopes dry up as Assam farmers’ plea for cold storage in Sontoli falls on deaf ears

For the past three consecutive years, Bilal Hussain, a famer of Sontoli, has been suffering huge losses despite growing fine vegetables on his 16-bigha plot of land. He grows tomato, brinjal, bitter gourd, chilly etc.

Like Bilal, other farmers of Sontoli also grow an array of vegetables like green chili, tomato, potato, brinjal, ladies finger, pulse, cucumber, ridge guard, sponge guard, snake gourd apart from mustard and pulses.

About 80 km from Assam’s capital city Guwahati, Sontoli under the jurisdiction of the Sub-divisional Agricultural Officer, Boko sub-division in Kamrup district has become a major vegetable hub in Assam with the farmers in this area growing vegetables throughout the year.

A local variety of green chilly balijuri has high demand and is supplied to markets in West Bengal and Bhutan. Cauliflower, cabbages are also produced on commercial scale.

The vegetables fetch good returns to the farmers when the market demand peaks. However, when the market demand dips Bilal and other farmers have either to sell their produce for a song or simply dump them as they have no facility for storing these perishable commodities.

The farmers in Sontoli area responded to various campaigns by the government and the Agriculture and Horticulture departments to go for multi-cropping and mixed-cropping. However, the Assam government never gave its ears to these farmers’ repeated pleas for setting up a cold storage in the area. In absence of cold storage facility, the farmers in Sontoli have failed to get the remunerative prices and incurring heavy losses.

“My annual post harvesting crop loss in terms of money is about Rs 3 lakh. When we fail to sell our produce for adequate return we need to store these perishable vegetables and wait for the demand and the price to rise. However, for that we need a cold storage. As we do not have cold storage we leave the vegetables to rot at the farming site because these would not fetch even the harvesting and transportation cost not to talk of a single paise profit,” Bilal tells NEZINE.

There are about 5000 farming families in Sontoli area who are engaged in commercial farming, Agriculture Development Officer of Sontoli Sailendra Prashad Saikia says that vegetables supplied by these farmers cater to a lion’s share of the vegetables’ markets in southern parts of Kamrup district.

The farmers make the best use of every inch of the land resources. They go for mix cropping like ridge gourd with sugar cane, brinjal with chilly and parwal with cabbage.

Agriculture Department in 2015-16 estimated that vegetables both of Rabi and kharif are spread into 1202 hactres area while asrea under pulse and spices cultivation are 600 hactres and 2554 hactres respectively. The area of mustard cultivation stands at 4322 hactres.

Gulzar Hussain, a farmer and trader laments that the famers of Sontoli had submitted the petition for a cold storage to the then Agriculture Minister Nilamani Sen Deka during the previous Congress regime but the State government is yet to take any initiative for providing relief to these farmers in distress.

Kishore Talukdar

( Kishore Talukdar is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. His areas of interest include Development journalism and Environment journalism. He can be contacted at tdrkishore@gmail.com )

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