The prevailing heat wave conditions later in March raised hopes of Raghava, 53, a salt farmer from the Prakasam district of Kothapatnam village that he would reap a good harvest.
During April, his hopes were dashed when the majority of workers scrapping salt from pans contracted coronavirus infection.
In other coastal villages like Chinnaganjam, Motumala, Biramkunda, Singarayakonda, Padarthi etc. the situation is no different. During this part of the year, salt mining is the main economic activity as there is no fishing or farming.
It is like the bitter memories of cyclone storm Laila, which snatched away its ready-to-harvest products in May 2010 and chased them again. Farmers spend sleepless nights as the salt is ready to be scrapped and just a single bout of unusual rain will force them to make heavy losses.
The weather system developed in the Bay of Bengal has also kept the salt farmers in suspense. Thanks to the 61-day fishing holiday, the fishermen competed with farm workers for work in the extensive salt pans in the summer.
Now a majority of farm workers and fishermen are not coming to work because the pandemic has not spared the coastal mandals. Authorities have enforced micro-containment activities to stop the infection from spreading.
It is the time when the salt extraction work has reached its peak, announced a group of salt farmers from the village of Motumala The Hindu. They had a tough year this year when Cyclone Storm Nivar forced them to re-prepare salt pans from scratch. “As a result, salt production has been delayed by more than a month,” said K. Venkateswara Rao, who started salt production on six acres of land.
“We are finding it difficult to find workers to bring the extracted salt to safety,” added another farmer, S. Jeeva Rao.
Not only has the pandemic hit their health badly, it has also affected their livelihoods, laments a middle-aged farmer, Koduri Srinivasulu. The government of the Union and the states should come to the rescue of the salt farmers and workers through the announcement of Ex-Gratia, said the mandal secretary of the center of the Indian union Kothapatnam, S. Swamy Reddy.
Minimum support price
Authorities should set a minimum support price for salt on agricultural product lines to avoid the uncomfortable situation of salt farmers selling their produce at a throwaway price to syndicated traders, he said.
However, salt purchased at the pan level at a price of less than £ 100 per quintal is sold to consumers more than ten times the price. And farmers are unable to show the magnitude of the losses caused by heavy rain during the middle of the extraction season. Leave the entire pan in a body of water and dilute the salinity, said Andhra Pradesh Agricultural Workers Union Mandal Secretary P. Prakasam at the same time emphasizing the development of liberal guidelines to assess loss of production due to natural disasters.