Other States

Coronavirus lockdown leaves Bihar’s litchi growers in the lurch

Litchi farmers anticipate huge losses due to the ongoing lockdown as the supply chain will be disrupted during the peak season. Photo: Special Arrangement  

The prolonged lockdown to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has put Bihar’s more than 45,000 litchi farmers in a bind as they stare at imminent losses amounting to almost ₹1,000 crore this year. Bihar, especially Muzaffarpur district, accounts for almost 40% of the total litchi production in the country.

 

“Last year our litchi business was severely hit by rumours that its consumption leads to encephalitis which caused the deaths of children,” litchi farmer Bhola Nath Jha told The Hindu over telephone. “And this year, the prolonged lockdown is threatening huge losses for us…we appeal to the government to look at our problem immediately,” he added. Mr. Jha owns several large litchi orchards with 600 trees in north Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district. He estimates that the losses to the State’s litchi farmers this year would likely amount to not less than ₹1,000 crore. Litchi is grown on more than 32,000 hectares of land in the State with annual production totalling to about 0.30 million metric tonnes.

 

Normally, by this time of the year, the litchi traders, middlemen and agents of exporters from major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Ludhiana, Uttar Pradesh, Pune, Bengaluru and Nepal would have come to Muzaffarpur ahead of the plucking season to tie up produce from litchi orchards with local farmers while paying money in advance. “But, due to the lockdown no one has come yet and our fruits are about to ripen in the next 20-25 days,” said Bachha Singh, president of the Bihar Litchi Growers Association. “The problem is litchi is a perishable fruit with 2-3 days shelf time, and if it doesn’t get buyers on time all will be lost,” he added. “Ever year, we’ve been exporting approximately 1,500 tonnes to Delhi and 1,000 tonnes to Mumbai from Muzaffarpur but due to the lockdown both these cities are badly affected and none of those traders have contacted us yet,” Mr. Singh explained. The peak litchi season is between the third week of May and the second week of June.

Alok Kumar Kedia, a litchi exporter from Muzaffarpur, said his plant usually processes 10,000-12,000 tonnes of the fruit annually and exports it to countries like Germany, England, France, Canada and the Netherlands but that this year “due to lockdown and slowdown of the market our sales have dipped about 30%”.

 

And the marginal farmers of litchi are an even more worried lot. “The big farmers can somehow survive the lockdown, but for us it will be a hard hit,” said Surendra Singh, a farmer with just one litchi orchard in the Bochaha block. “We cannot sell the fruit by the roadside on carts,” he added. The other problem for the growers is the lack of availability of wooden boxes in which the fruit is packed for export to different cities and countries. “Due to lockdown, the sawmills are closed and making of wooden boxes has not yet begun… thousands of wooden boxes are needed to package litchi fruits and we’ve now very little time left,” rued Mr. Jha. He has, however, requested the District Magistrate Chandrashekhar Singh to allow sawmills to open so that the wooden boxes can be manufactured as soon as possible and to issue special passes to the transporters to take the fruit outside the State. “Otherwise, the litchi growers of the State would starve to death this year,” he asserted. The DM, Mr. Jha said, had assured them of an “action plan” to help the litchi farmers of the district. “We’re crossing our fingers until then,” the sexagenarian farmer added.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 1:33:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/coronavirus-lockdown-leaves-bihars-litchi-growers-in-the-lurch/article31408998.ece

Next Story