During the lockdown, Asia’s biggest chilli market remained shut for almost two months. With the lockdown in force and strict movement restrictions imposed, most farmers were not able to move their harvest to cold storage units. As for the traders and few agents, they had already occupied most of the cold storage units just as the news about the nationwide lockdown spread.
The Mirchi yard is a source of livelihood for more than 5000 farmers, 5000 workers, close to 30 exporters and about 900 commission agents. In Guntur district alone, this season witnessed cultivation of red chillies spread over 1.75 lakh acres of which, 1.15 lakh harvests was from the Palnadu region. Ever since the closure in March, these farmers, exporters and agents who travelled hundreds of kilometres to sell their produce daily were rendered jobless. Though the lockdown is an essential precautionary move, the government failed to initiate any relief measures for this community or any of the allied stakeholders.
Over 1,500 workers from Northern parts of India, work in the Mirchi yard. For more than a month, the government failed to address their demand to be sent back home. They now feel that the best option for them is to earn less in their native lands like Bihar, Rajasthan and UP. Some have expressed their regret for coming to states like Andhra Pradesh where the government treats them not like migrants but infiltrates.
Guntur district stands second to Kurnool in terms of the number of corona virus positive cases in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The export demand for the chillies had already fallen by about 50% when the market reopened on 25 May 2020. Both representatives from exporter and farmer communities have demanded some special assistance from the government or at least an intervention to ensure financial support from banks in the form of loans. The AP government’s next step would determine the future of Asia’s largest chilli market.