Going bananas, in the sugar belt

Tired of fighting for the statutory minimum price for their sugarcane, many farmers in Kolhapur district are breaking away from tradition and looking to banana cultivation for salvation.

Nearly 150 farmers from Shirol taluka have participated in a novel project started by Bhumata Vegetables Co-operative Society (BVCS) and have planted international bestseller G-9 variety of banana crop on 200 acres of land.

The BVCS, an initiative by Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna chief and MLA Raju Shetty, stresses cultivation of vegetables and bananas on a commercial scale.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Raju Shetty said, "Sugarcane cultivation is not proving to be profitable. We have now found an alternative in banana plantation, a cash crop that gives farmers more money than sugarcane. Neither do we have to fight for any SMP or take out a morcha any more. We have started a project in which 150 farmers together will cultivate bananas on their individual land. Netafim, a company that has provided drip irrigation, has assured us to assist us; it will also help in finding us markets abroad".

"We have set eyes on markets of Europe and Gulf countries. We are in talks with several export firms to ensure a fixed market for our product," he added.

BVCS is also consulting experts from Philippines about how to take care of bananas after harvesting them, how to preserve them, and export them.

Anil Kiripali, a farmer from Shirol who has begun cultivating G9 banana on his two-acre land recently, said, "We can also grow other crops along with bananas in the field. I have sown tomatoes as a mixed crop in the field. One acre yields 25 tonnes of bananas on an average. Even going by the domestic market rate of Rs 5,000 per tonne, I'll get get Rs 1.25 lakh per acre. This is double the amount I used to get from my sugarcane crop."

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