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'Asani' leaves bitter taste for salt farmers of Prakasam in Andhra Pradesh

By S. Murali

Even as a group of salt farmers, after a back-breaking work, was gearing up to take up harvest of their produce from the salt pans on a full scale in a remote Biramgunta village, near Kothapatnam in Prakasam district, the devastating cyclonic storm ''Asani'' left the salt farmers shocked washing out the entire produce in no time.

Salt production normally peaks in May. ‘‘We cannot expect any salt production for the next one month,” laments a salt farmer P Anjaneyulu, while repairing the bunds of his salt pan in the village with the rains abating.

The heavy rain induced by ‘Asani’ has come at the most inopportune time. If there are any further rains. the farmers cannot produce any salt this year, says K. Venkateswarlu Reddy, another salt farmer from Motumala village, in a conversation with The Hindu. He has taken up salt production in one and half acres of land.

“I was hoping to make a kill with weathermen predicting heat wave conditions during May. Now my hopes are dashed. I am clueless on clearing debts to the tune of ₹1 lakh taken for salt production in four acres of land,” laments P. Prabhakar from the coastal village of Kothapatnam.

Salt contents diluted

The salt content in the pans has now been diluted. The untimely rains put paid to their hopes of full scale salt production this year, adds Ch. Ramakrishna from Padarsi village. The situation is similar to the one when “Laila” cyclonic storm wrecked havoc in 2010.

The small-time farmers in Kothapatnam mandal are depended upon private money lenders, who advance them loans in December for preparing salt pans and purchase the salt produced by them at a discounted price than the one prevailing in the market, and sell them mostly in the winter months when there is no salt production for a price, three to four times more than that ruling at the time of harvest, the farmers complain and press for setting up of a commodity Board by the State government to insulate them from market forces and provide succour to them when heavy rains play spoilsport.

In the absence of pucca road, the farmers are forced to physically carry the salt up to the main road, they add while pressing for a motorable roads close to salt pans in the villages of Biramgunta, Motumala, Kothapatnam, Padarsi and Gundamala. An additional cost of ₹10 per quintal of salt is incurred for transportation of salt from salt pans up to the main road in the absence of metal roads, they complain.

Intervention sought

The State government should arrange for institutional credit for the salt farmers who produce salt in two to five acres in the mandal to end the exploitation by money lenders, Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam Kothapatnam district secretary S. Swamy Reddy says. The government should also fix minimum support price for salt and intervene in the market when the price falls below that.

Salt pan is prepared in December by pumping out stagnant rainwater, formation of field channels, overhauling of electric motor, strengthening of bunds and stamping of land, and the salt production goes on till July.

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