"A few years ago, we used to say, if someone took a trolly full of garlic to the mandi, he might end up buying a new tractor on his way back home. But now it seems even the tractor that the farmer possesses might have to be sold to pay for the expenditure,” rues Santosh Rathore from Soni village of Mandsaur.
Rathore had cultivated garlic on his one-hectare land hoping to make some money after a disastrous experience with soybean, the main Kharif crop. But the recent price crash has left him devastated. He now has just stopped going to the mandi and stored the crop, expecting to get a better price in future.
"I can't wait for long. As soon as monsoon comes, garlic will start getting soiled. And by winter I might have to dispose of these at dirt cheap rates," says Rathore, pointing towards sacks of garlic stored in his outhouse (pictured below).
Sacks of garlic lying in the outhouse
Once considered the last resort for farmers in a bad year, garlic has this time left farmers in Mandsaur and Neemuch, the main growing regions of Madhya Pradesh, in the lurch.
According to the official data from the National Horticulture Research and Development Foundation (NHDRF), the garlic prices in Mandsaur and Indore mandis have dropped by almost 59 per cent between March and May this year when compared with the same period in 2017.
This has been a season of bumper harvest and garlic has also been included in the Bhavanter Bhugtaan Yojana (BBY) by the state. But the prices have, in fact, started falling more since garlic's inclusion in the popular BBY scheme.
According to farmers, garlic used to be sold at Rs 2,500 a quintal earlier. But after the window for selling garlic under the BBY scheme was opened a few months ago, the prices fell to Rs 800 a quintal.
Meanwhile, in the rally of Congress President Rahul Gandhi in Mandsaur on Wednesday, many speakers raised the issue of declining garlic prices. Gandhi himself repeatedly asked the gathering about the price at which they sold garlic this year and how different it was from the previous years.
Though the state government has claimed that overproduction is the reason for such sharp drop in prices, farmers of Mandsaur are not willing to buy the argument.
"If it's overproduction, why were the prices not so weak last year, when we cultivated the crop in almost the same area," asks Bherulal from Magrana village in Mandsaur. He says his relatives took land on lease in the submergence area of Chambal to get a good price, but they were now finding it difficult to repay the lease amount due to the price crash.
"Several of them have simply left the crop in their field to rot," adds Bherulal.
He says, under BBY, the state government has guaranteed a price of Rs 800 a quintal for garlic, but traders are not willing to pay anything more than Rs 300 a quintal and asking us to get the remaining money from the government. "We were better off without BBY, at least we could get a good price in the peak season," he further adds.
On the back of a sharp drop in prices of soybean, urad, isabgol and chana, the price reduction in garlic has left farmers of Mandsaur with a bitter taste.
“No major crop in the past couple of years has earned a good return for farmers of Mandsaur and Neemuch. God knows what lies ahead in the future”, wonders Bherulal.