Litchi harvest in Bihar affected due to unusual weather, say scientists

Several of the state’s farmers and scientists said there was reportedly a loss in sweetness and fragrance in this year’s harvest.

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Monday 08 June 2020

Unusual weather since March — not expected by Bihar’s farmers and horticulture scientists — had an impact on the quality of litchi, the summer fruit the state is famous for. Several farmers and scientists said there was reportedly a loss in sweetness and fragrance in this year’s harvest.

Muzaffarpur — also known as the ‘Land of litchis’ — and other neighbouring districts account for more than 62 per cent of India’s litchi production, down from 70 per cent in 2019.

Litchi is a sub-tropical fruit and requires a specific climate, said Ashish Kumar Panda, a fruit scientist at the Department of Horticulture, Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University (RPCAU), Pusa, in Samastipur district.

There were, however, a number of variations due to off-season rain and unexpected temperature fluctuations in the current litchi season, according to Panda.

Diurnal temperature variations (difference between day and night temperature) play an important role in regulating overall fruit growth, including parameters like the total soluble solid content of the fruit, its acidity and sugar-to-acid ratio, said Panda.

Temperature variations linked to recent off-season rainfall in the state were possibly the cause for partial deterioration in quality, he said, adding such issues need to be addressed after a look at real-time data.

“We are planning to looked into these issues and hope we come to conclusions soon. We can give recommendations to litchi growers based on our findings afterwards,” he said.

M Feza Ahmad, a professor of horticulture at Bihar Agriculture University (BAU), Sabour in Bhagalpur district, said untimely heavy rain during March and April caused unfavourable weather for litchi.

The usual growth of the fruit during this period did not take place this time. “Fruit growth was slow because litchi is grown under a specific micro-climatic condition. During this period, the temperature was low, something that is not good for its natural growth,” Ahmad said.

“Sugar assimilation was affected, resulting in poor quality litchis this time around,” he said.

Proper temperature played the primary role for litchi trees to produce fruit, according to Sushil Pathak, professor of Agronomy at BAU. Temperature should rise after flowering, said Pathak.

The litchi is a very sensitive fruit as far as temperature, rainfall and humidity are concerned, he said, adding that anything unusual is bound to affect quality.

Vishal Nath, the director of National Research Centre on Litchi in Muzaffarpur, however, claimed unfavourable weather had no effect on the quality of the fruit.

“Litchi’s size, sweetness and taste is as usual. We analysed this in our laboratory last week,” he said.

Nath did admit unusual rain affected litchi growth to an extent.

“We advised farmers to harvest shahi litchi (a variety of litchi grown in Bihar) by May 30 but they began harvesting as usual from May 20,” he said.

Some issues in size, sweetness and flavour may be there as farmers harvested the fruit 10 days ahead of time, according to Nath.

“Our scientific data suggests 1,400 heat unit submission (a measurement unit used by scientists) should be maintained to harvest shahi litchi,” he said.

“Due to weather conditions, we suggested delaying the harvest for proper maturity and growth,” he added.

There are 45,000 litchi farmers in Muzaffarpur, according to a report from the state horticulture department.

Abdus Sattar, an agro-meteorologist at RPCAU, said untimely heavy rain adversely affected farmers who grow maize, litchi and mango. He said total rain recorded in April was 110 millimetres against the normal 15-25 mm.

Bihar experienced the highest rainfall in the month of April since 1995, Sattar claimed. It recorded 63 mm rainfall in 2017, 67.3 mm in 2003, 60 mm in 2004 and 58.2 mm in 1998.

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