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Farmers are burning chillies on the highway to protest the produce’s falling prices.
Image credit: Screenshot/TV9

Farmers in Andhra Pradesh resorted to burning mounds of chillies on the Chennai-Kolkata Highway this week in the Prakasam District in protest of the falling prices of chillies on the market. Traffic was held up for hours and the police were required to intervene. The price of chillies has fallen to an all-time low of Rs. 5,000 to 6,000 per quintal as compared to Rs. 15,000 to 20,000 per quintal in 2016, The Hindu reports.

Chilli burnings have taken place in Hyderabad, Enumamula, Kothagudem and Khammam chilli market yards. A demonstration led by Ch. Venkateswarulu, the state general secretary of Andhra Pradesh and Rythu Sangam activists, performed in front of the collector’s office with a farmer and a noose.

The protests, which have been ongoing for the past month, were organised in hopes of persuading the Union and the Central Government to intervene and help the farmers in their time of need. Farmers who have invested over 1.5 lakhs per acres are facing losses since their produce is not directly sent to the market, but through middlemen who buy their chillies at low prices and sell them, as well as other commercial crops, for much higher prices. The retail market prices have not been amended to benefit farmers. 

The Andhra Pradesh government has come up with a plan to help the farmers make up the difference between the production cost and the prices of the chillies. The farmers who have earned less than Rs. 8,000 per quintal will be compensated depending on the area of farming and how much they earned for their produce, though there is no set amount of money that will be given to each farmer. The State Government is also looking for means to provide loans to farmers to support their production costs. They have also held several discussions with the state agriculture ministry to reduce the cost of production, so farmers can climb out of debt sooner and without much difficulty. 

According to the Financial Express, T Harish Rao, Telangana’s minister for irrigation and farming, requested the Centre to provide 50% assistance under the Market Investment Fund, which will help to stabilise the farmers’ income.

The Centre has proposed that 10% of the total chillies produced, which is 1,74,588 metric tonnes against 6,98,353 metric tonnes, be covered by the market intervention scheme for Rs. 502.59 crore. 

GV Ramanjeneyulu, a scientist at the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Andhra Pradesh hopes that the state will take some serious action in helping their farmers out of this predicament. When asked how long the crisis will continue, he said, “This drop in prices is only temporary. As soon as the harvest season is over, the prices of chillies will go up and if the government does not do anything, there will be a repeat of these riots the next year again during this time.” 

One of the major reasons for the farmers’ riots is due to the high production cost of chillies in Andhra Pradesh, which produces a majority of the country’s share of chillies. The cost includes pesticides, water in the drought-ridden areas, farming tools and machinery. 

While the protests and demonstrations have stalled for now, conversations between the farmers and the state for some relief from the economic slump are ongoing.