Bitter harvest, sweet fruit: Puttathayi’s story of running a banana farm in Mysore

November 23, 2017
By Rang De Team

By Lydia Paulraj

Puttathayi Prakash poses for a picture in her banana plantation in Hulahalli, Mysuru

The village of Hullahalli lies in the rural district of Mysuru, Karnataka. The fields that form much of its landscape are wet from a recent downpour. The sky is overcast with the promise of more rain as we make our way to the home of Puttathayi Prakash.

Puttathayi lives in the midst of her eight-acre banana plantation, in a modest home which she maintains on her own income. The vast expanse of fields surrounding her plantation convey a feeling of island-like isolation, with only a few houses visible in the distance. Her husband, a farmer, whose work keeps him outside the home on most days, divides his time between Hullahalli and Mysore.

48-year-old Puttathayi has been cultivating bananas for the past 12 years. “No matter how much money you put into farming, it is never enough” she says, summing up her experience as a farmer and plantation owner. Given the multiple multiple problems that Puttathayi has to reckon with, it is little wonder she feels this way.

Purchasing saplings, pesticides, manure as well as the hiring labour for tilling, planting and harvesting the fruit works out to Rs.12000. This process, repeated four times in a year, sets her back by Rs. 48000, a sum she simply cannot afford given how little money her produce fetches at the market.
The high cost of growing bananas leaves her with little money to meet household expenses. With many of the villagers migrating to neighbouring towns and cities in search of work, getting hired help at the right time is difficult. On most occassions, Puttathayi hires three labourers from Hullahalli.

In Puttathayi’s case, the costs of maintaining a banana farm far outweigh the profits

What really prevents Puttathayi from earning a profit from her banana harvest is a problem that plagues farmers all over India: no minimum support price (MSP).

Without a minimum price for harvested crops, growers like Puttathayi are exploited by middleman who offer her rates as low as Rs. 10-Rs.15 per kilo of bananas. In the city markets, a kilo of Puttathayi’s harvest fetches anywhere between Rs. 90-Rs. 120 per kilo. In order to turn over a profit, Puttathayi needs to sell her produce for at least Rs.60 per kilo.

Looking at these numbers, it is painfully clear that the benefit of high prices never reaches the grower.

In recent years, Puttathayi has also been trying her best to cope with a new challenge: climate change. Days of unseasonal rains or sudden, heavy downpurs often destroy an entire crop. Without crop insurance, this means massive losses for small plantation farmers. Despite a dwindling income over the years, Puttathayi continues to nurture her plantation. She walks a kilometre every day to turn on a pumpset in order to water the banana plants. She has adopted measures such as mixed cropping to ensure that the soil is replenished from time to time.

Puttathayi welcomed us to her home with food and cups of tea. Women like Puttathayi, who run and own farms, are rare in India, where farming continues to a male-dominated profession

Puttathayi plans to cultivate bananas for as long as she can and has no intention of switching to anything else.

When we ask her why she was not open to growing something else, she responds with a smile.“It’s the only thing I know. I get satisfaction from giving work to the labourers. Food at home is nothing fancy. Just ragi mudde (finger millet) and spinach”.

Despite close to 100 million women being employed in agriculture, only 30% are listed as primary labourers. In such a scenario, women like Puttathayi, who run and own their plantations are rare. With the help of periodic microloans such as the one she received from Rang De, Puttathayi has been able to keep her plantation afloat. It provides her with timely low-cost capital to meet the expenses of running her plantation, considerably lowering her input costs.

Her determination to succeed is just one example of women farmers around the country who weather the most trying times with resourcefulness and sound financial decisions. At RangDe.Org, we endeavour to rally more support for women farmers who often slip through the cracks and go unrecognised in discussions on the agrarian crisis.

To support women like Puttathayi, you can become a social investor with us and make a social investment of Rs. 100 or more here