Climate Change

Climate change is real: Heatwave to hit Bihar litchi, mango farmers

Litchi and mango need special micro climates; but climate change has upset this in the last decade, say scientists

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Tuesday 26 April 2022
A litchi tree. Photo: iStock
A litchi tree. Photo: iStock A litchi tree. Photo: iStock

The ongoing heatwave is bad news for mango and litchi growers in Bihar. Experts and farmers in the state have told Down To Earth they are not hopeful of a bumper harvest this summer. On the contrary, yields could reduce by a quarter or more, they say.

Some 17 of Bihar’s 38 districts are in the grip of a heatwave according to official data released by the Patna centre of the India Meteorological Department on April 25, 2022.

The maximum temperature of 43.2 degrees Celsius was recorded in Banka district, followed by 42.6°C in Gaya district and 42.4°C in Patna. About nine districts, including Bhagalpur and West Champaran, recorded temperatures of 42°C and above. Other districts recorded between 38°C and 41°C.

More than 90 per cent of mango and litchi orchards are located in the districts that are facing heatwaves at the moment and have witnessed high temperatures since last month.

Abdus Sattar, an agro-meteorologist at the Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University, Pusa, in Samastipur district, said early high temperatures, followed by consecutive spells of heat are part of climate change.

This has affected normal production of summer fruits like mango and litchi. Rising temperatures, high humidity and lack of moisture are very harmful for mango and litchi cultivation, he added.

Sattar said in recent years, untimely heavy rains, unexpected high temperatures and heatwaves had adversely affected litchi and mango.

SD Pandey, director of National Research Centre on Litchi (NRCL) in Muzaffarpur told this reporter that rising temperatures, along with hot winds, were bad for litchi.

Farmers have been complaining about fruit drops on a large scale. The size and quality of the fruit are bound to be affected.

“The impact of rising temperatures on the Shahi litchi, a unique variety of litchi from Muzaffarpur, was less because of early fruit setting and maturity. But China litchi, a popular variety, was badly hit by it,” Pandey added.

He admitted that all this was the result of climate change. “Climate change is real, with temperature variations and unexpected heatwaves hitting litchi yields,” he said.

Day temperatures in Muzaffarpur and its neighbouring districts have already touched 40°C. The NRCL has advised farmers to irrigate orchards to provide moisture in view of rising temperatures.

“Usually, we expect temperatures above 30°C and below 35°C in the second half of April for smooth fruit setting and less dropping,” Pandey said.

Mohammad Feza Ahmad, horticulture and fruit scientist at the Bihar Agriculture University, Sabour in Bhagalpur district said litchi yields will reduce by 25-30 per cent yield this time. Ahmad added that farmers had been advised to protect the fruit setting by way of frequent light irrigation up to May 15.

“The state government should have a project to provide irrigation facilities to orchards of mango and litchi in view of climate change. The vagaries of weather and unexpected rise of temperature will increase as various studies have highlighted,” he said.

He also noted that both mango and litchi have been facing the adverse impacts of climate change since the last one decade.

“Litchi is grown under a specific micro-climatic condition. During this period, the temperature should be neither low nor high, for its natural growth. Variations of climate also affect sugar assimilation, resulting in poor quality litchis as well as mango,” Ahmad said.

Bachcha Singh, a litchi farmer and president of the Litchi Utpadak Sangh, said, “We are helpless as the weather is playing truant with litchi farmers. Litchi scientists have informed us that it is the result of climate change and that this trend will continue.”

Litchi orchards are spread across nearly 12,000 hectares in Muzaffarpur and litchi cultivation in Bihar is spread across nearly 32,000 hectares.

This accounts for nearly 40 per cent of India’s litchi production. Litchi is cultivated in nearly 98,000 hectares of the country.

Ashok Choudhary, president of Bihar Mango Growers Association, said a number of mango flowers had either dropped or had dried out due to an unexpected rise in temperature since March.

Heatwaves from mid-April had resulted in the dropping of baby mangoes, locally known as tikola. “It is a big loss for farmers. We expect at least a 25 per cent fall in mango production this year and mangoes will cost more,” Choudhary said.

“Malda and Jardalu varieties are Bihari cultivars of mango. But their production has been falling, thanks to variations of climate,” he added. Mango orchards in Bihar are mainly located in the Muzaffarpur, Bhagalpur, Darbhanga, Saran, East Champaran, Vaishali, Patna and Katihar districts.

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