Wayanad (Kerala): Wayanad district in North Kerala looks lush and fertile, but farmers here have been struggling with poverty and falling prices. A spate of farmer suicides has even forced the state government to declare Wayanad a disaster-hit area.
However, the entry of retail giant Reliance Fresh, has brought new hope. The company plans to buy produce directly from farmers and that means they may get better prices and weaken the hold of middlemen.
Says a farmer, Thomas Chacko, "What Wayanad needs is someone who can buy the produce from the farmers directly so that there will be uniformity of prices. We hope that this need can be fulfilled by Reliance. we also hope that they are able to provide us some storage capacity, which Wayanad does not have. Then we can work towards minimising wastage."
However, others view the entry of big players into this sector with suspicion. Agricultural activists say retail giants cannot possibly bring relief to farmers, when the state government has failed to do the same.
Says a Farmer Relief Forum activist, A C Varkey, "First farmers were encouraged to cultivate vanilla, tThen cocoa. But these crops failed and many went bankrupt. Wayanad cannot be saved unless people stop making the farmers guinea pigs in their social experiments."
Reliance though has big plans for the region. It wants to open nearly 50 outlets across Kerala by the end of November.
For the farmers of Wayanad, the entry of Reliance provides yet another lifeline, but it will be only after the rains stop and cultivation starts in right earnest that the real acid test of this new found relation will begin.