With export season set to begin in the country, banana exporters are worried about the absence of migrant workers. They say that nearly 30 per cent of workers involved in the various stages of banana export are yet to report to duty, which has slowed down the export of the fruit.
Annually, India exports nearly 2 lakh tonnes of the fruit, with Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh leading the pack. Migrant workers constitute the backbone of this sector as they are involved in various stages like harvesting, sorting and handling of the fruit.
Last year, the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown had coincided with the peak of the May-December export season. Most of the workers who were stuck at the farms had gone back home, and they are yet to come back to the fields. The industry employs around 2-3 lakh such workers and around 30 per cent of them are yet to come back.
Gautam RP, export consultant with Desai Agri Foods Private Limited – the largest exporter of bananas in the country – said most trained workers come from West Bengal and Jharkhand.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Gautam said the firm’s export operation is spread across Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. “Things are slowly settling down but there is a shortage of workers. As the season progresses, we hope things will improve…,” he said.
Like other agriculture commodities, banana production is both labour-intensive and requires certain skills, said Gautam. In the absence of skilled manpower, exports are likely to be hit, said Gautam, whose firm exports nearly 50,000-55,000 tonnes of fruit on an average.
Pankaj Khandelwal of INA farm, however, said they had faced labour problems last season. “At present, our operations are going on in Andhra Pradesh and we do not have any labour problem as such,” he said.