Climate Change

Is climate change to blame for Bihar’s bad litchi harvest?

Unusually high temperatures during the fruiting season in April and May could be the reason, say farmers and scientists

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Wednesday 22 May 2019
A litchi tree. Photo: Mohd Imran Khan
A litchi tree. Photo: Mohd Imran Khan A litchi tree. Photo: Mohd Imran Khan

Could climate change be behind Bihar’s bad litchi harvest this year? Farmers and scientists certainly think so.

Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, also known as the “Land of litchis”, along with its neighbouring districts, accounts for more than 62 per cent of India's litchi production, down from a high of 70 per cent.

According to farmers as well as scientists, the quality of litchi this year was hit hard by unexpected variations of temperature in April and May. For healthy growth of a litchi, temperature should be between 33 and 35 degrees Celsius. It should not be above 38 degrees C.

According to them, it is not just about this year. During the last three to four years, in the months of April and May, when temperatures should have been high and the wind dry, the weather was humid.

Sushil Pathak, professor of Agronomy, Bihar Agriculture University at Sabour in Bhagalpur district, said that while hot weather had affected litchis this year, the past few years had also seen unexpected climate variations. “There should be optimum temperature for the fruiting of litchi. After flowering, the temperature should rise. But that was missing this time,” he told Down To Earth (DTE).

“The litchi is considered to be a very sensitive fruit as far as temperature, rainfall and humidity are concerned,” an expert of climate change at the Rajendra Prasad Central Agriculture University, Pusa, in Samastipur told DTE.

If the right conditions are not present, the litchi fruit can crack, becoming smaller in size and less juicy, he added.

Farmers are also blaming the rise and fluctuation in temperature. “The temperature is above 40. This is not good for litchi and has hit its quality, particularly Shahi litchi, a specific brand of Muzaffarpur,” Bholanath Jha, a well-known face of litchi cultivation in Muzaffarpur told DTE.

“What can we do except to pray for an end to the heat wave as soon as possible? The fruit’s skin is cracking and drying; even the colour has changed to dark grey instead of pink,” Mantu Singh, a litchi-growing farmer, who owns a big orchard spread in Minapur block of Muzaffarpur, said.

Fearing more damage if the dry spell continues in the coming days, some litchi-growing farmers at different places have already started plucking the fruits, which have not yet ripened.

However, one expert felt that it was up to the farmers themselves to salvage their crop from climatic fluctuations.

“Management is the new mantra to deal with high temperature or heat-wave conditions. If litchi trees were watered on time and regularly by farmers, litchi quality would be healthy and there would be no impact of the scorching sun or hot weather,” Vishal Nath, the director of NRCL, said.

He said in last two days, he had visited dozens of orchards in Muzaffarpur and the adjoining districts of Vaishali and Samastipur districts, and found healthy litchis where farmers had irrigated trees.

According to a report of the state horticulture department, there are 45,000 litchi-growing farmers in Muzaffarpur.

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