From carrot to cauliflower, crops are aplenty at Kandapola
Fresh veggies for all seasons
By Hiranthi Fernando
Terraced fields of vegetables lie amidst the rolling green hills of tea. Vegetable cultivation is the main occupation in Kandapola. Its salubrious climate and fertile soil yield rich harvests. Every nook and corner is taken up by beds of carrots, leeks, beet, cabbage or potatoes.

The work is hard, but the rewards do come. Some part-time home gardeners find they earn more from the vegetables than their monthly wage. So come rain or sunshine, they are out in their fields, tending their crops, sowing, planting, weeding, spraying and finally harvesting the fruits of their labour.

A large scale cultivator, V. Rajendran cultivates ten acres of land that he leases for Rs.75,000 to Rs 100,000 per acre. He has been in the business for about 17 years. "I cultivate leeks, beets, carrots, cabbages while potatoes, I buy from other cultivators as well." Rajendran employs about 20 men and 10 women on his fields.

His crops are sold to wholesalers and he also runs a shop in Kandapola town. Prices fluctuate, he says and he sometimes runs at a loss. A well cultivated acre of land should yield 10,000 kg of carrots or beet or 15,000 kg of leeks, Rajendran said. Profits per crop per acre are in the region of Rs. 40,000 to Rs.50,000.

In the case of potatoes, the profit was much higher, but with imports however, the farmers' incomes dropped drastically and many gave up cultivating it. Cultivation has now picked up and Rajendran said the potato farmers get about Rs.45 per kg at current rates. The cost of cultivating an acre of potatoes, including pesticides and fertilizers works out to around Rs. 250,000. The crop sells for about Rs.400,000 if all goes well.

J.K. Devon Nona is a small cultivator with forty years of experience. She works the three quarter acre of land around her house herself with two or three women to help, only employing men for the more strenuous jobs such as digging the ground and preparing the beds.

Devon Nona cultivates just one crop in her vegetable garden, this time carrots. During a low season she gets about Rs. 10 to 20 per kilo of carrots and when the market is good, around Rs. 30 to 35. The carrots can be harvested in four months. Next she plans to put down beet and leeks.

Vegetable cultivation is not all plain sailing however, says another large scale cultivator, W.M. Kumarathunga, who has 30 years experience. "Although most of the crops are ready in 3 to 4 months, it is usually not possible to do three crops for the year," Kumarathunga said. Difficulties with labour and other factors such as rain and diseases affect their plans. "We pay Rs. 200 per day for permanent labour and Rs. 325 for casual labour hired from Nuwara Eliya," Kumarathunga said.

Insect attacks are another problem. Cabbage, especially, is vulnerable to insects and has to be sprayed with three types of insecticides. During the past four to five years, vegetable farmers have been battling a mite that attacks tubers in particular. They have still not found an insecticide that destroys it. Farmers try all kinds of remedies, such as Dettol, soap, chillie powder and kohomba. Having found that the mite is attracted to yellow, on the advice of the Agricultural Department in the area, the farmers are introducing sheets of yellow polythene among their vegetables. The polythene is greased and the mite sticks to it.

The cultivators do not seem to have a problem in selling their produce. Yet there are times when they cannot recover their costs. "Brokers from Nuwara Eliya come and buy our produce," said W.M. Kumarathunga, Today, brokers pay a fair price, keeping about Rs. 5 per kilo for themselves but quality is demanded. Thirty years ago, cabbage for instance, would have been sold for five cents per pound. The labour cost of cultivating cabbage being low, the brokers buy cabbages at Rs. 8 - 10 per kilo. Sometimes they resell them immediately from the site for Rs. 12. The transport costs are then borne by the buyer.

Kumarathunga said he grows mostly the common upcountry vegetables, carrots, leeks, beet and cabbage. Many cultivators do not go in for exotic varieties such as cauliflower as they are not easy to sell. Items like zuchchini, are bought by five star hotels but if the demand is exceeded, there is no market.

Padmini Karunaratne and her husband cultivate cauliflower and broccoli along with the more common vegetables in their half acre home garden. Her husband works in the Forest Department, so Padmini looks after the veggies. She first plants these seeds in a mother bed. When the seedlings are ready they are planted as a border around the more common vegetable.

Many farmers cannot cultivate vegetables like because the crop is staggered. They are difficult to grow during rainy weather, have to be shielded from the sun and are also prone to insect and fungus attacks. The demand for cauliflower and broccoli is seasonal, increasing during April and Christmas, Padmini said. A crop of broccoli just harvested was selling for Rs. 190. The Karunaratnes' income from vegetables is about Rs.15,000 for a three to four month period on a mixed crop.

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