Poor demand, bountiful output plunge kinnow price, leave farmers in distress

Poor demand, abundant production, and early plucking of the produce this winter have left growers of kinnow, a citrus mandarin fruit in Punjab, grappling for a fair price for their season’s harvest.

Production of kinnow, a hybrid between King (Citrus Nobilis) and Willo Leaf (Citrus Deliciosa) mandarins, is likely to see a jump from last year’s 12 Lakh Metric Tonne (LMT) to 13.50 LMT this season in Punjab, a major producer of kinnow in the country.

Growers in the State are worried over the drop in kinnow price in the ongoing season compared to last year. At the same time, the officials are optimistic of kinnows fetching a better price in the coming days following a dip in temperature in the region, which would enhance quality of the fruit.

In Fazilka district’s Abohar, a key kinnow-producing region in Punjab, Sudhir Bishnoi of Bishanpura village is anxious as he fears substantial loss this season. “We are getting significantly lower prices for the fruit when compared to last year. There is almost a 50% drop in the price for the grower. I have so far sold half of my produce between ₹7 and ₹8 per kg while last year it fetched around ₹15-₹16,” Mr. Bishnoi, who owns an orchard spread over four acres, told The Hindu.

“Interestingly, while we are getting lower prices for the produce, the fruit is being sold in the retail market for almost the same price as last year, which is around ₹32-₹35 per kg. This indicates that middlemen are reaping the profit while growers and the consumers are suffering,” added Mr. Bishnoi. He demanded that the State intervene and said when kinnow prices fall drastically, as they have this year, the State should purchase the produce from the grower.

“Government intervention is all the more important in the wake of the government’s big talks about promoting crop diversification. If the government is serious about promoting crop diversification in the State, then a mechanism for assured price and purchase of the produce has to be put in place,” he said.

In Punjab, harvesting of kinnow usually begins in December and continues till February-end. According to State government data, the total area under kinnow in Punjab is around 47,000 hectares this season. Apart from Fazilka, kinnow is also grown in Hoshiarpur, Muktsar, Bathinda and a few other districts.

Balwinder Singh, nodal officer (citrus) in the State Horticulture Department, meanwhile, is optimistic that kinnow prices would see a rise in the days to come as winter season is setting in and demand is also likely to increase. “Improved production is one reason behind the drop in kinnow prices. The other reason has been the early plucking of the fruit by some growers. As some growers began plucking the fruit before it reached maturity, as early as the first week of November, the quality [size and colour] was impacted, which lowered the price. Mid-December is the appropriate time to begin kinnow harvesting, as the winter sets in. Kinnow crop thrives in cold conditions. I am quite hopeful that the price will improve in the days to come as weather conditions are becoming conducive. Also, demand from cities like Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Delhi has started to increase, which is a good sign,” he said.

Amid the price crisis, the Fazilka local administration also intervened last month to ensure the growers get a fair price. “Kinnow growers from Abohar, commission agents, and district administration officials held a meeting last month and it was decided that commission agents in the Abohar market [mandi] would purchase kinnow at a minimum price, between ₹10 to ₹14 a kg [depending on quality] from the farmers,” said Mr. Singh.

According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the minimum and maximum temperatures are hovering in normal range in Punjab and cold wave conditions in certain parts could intensify over the next few days. “In a few districts including Fazilka, cold wave and foggy conditions are expected to gain strength in the next few days,” said A.K. Singh, head at IMD-Chandigarh.

Expressing dismay over poor returns for his kinnow crop, Kapil Bishnoi, another grower of Meharana village who has planted kinnows on a 10-acre orchard, said, “Last year, I got around ₹24 per kg for my good quality crop but this season the market has crashed and I had to sell the same produce at ₹8 per kg. At this price, even recovering my input cost, which is around ₹50,000 per acre, has become difficult. I am not even thinking about making a profit. The trader says there’s less demand, and hence low price,” he said.

Vinay Huria, a trader associated with a kinnow processing plant in Abohar, attributed the expected bountiful production and poor quality of kinnow to be among reasons behind the drop in the fruit’s prices. “All signs point to bountiful production this season in comparison to the previous year. The quality has gone down as size is small due to overcrowding of fruit on tree branches. Also, demand from other States of the country has so far been relatively less. Good quality fruit is fetching ₹12-13 per kg, which is almost half of last year’s price,” he said.

The kinnow mandarin has emerged as Punjab’s flagship citrus fruit. Kinnow tree is renowned for its bountiful yield of high-quality and juice-rich fruits.

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