COVID-19 lockdown spells trouble for Bihar’s litchi growers

Farmers expect to sell a quarter of this year’s litchi output

By C K Manoj
Published: Tuesday 21 April 2020
With industries shut and farmers rendered jobless, litchi trade has been badly hit. Source: CK Manoj

More than 45,000 litchi farmers in Bihar stare at losses in the wake of the nationwide lockdown enforced to curb the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread.

According to a Bihar horticulture department report, litchi is grown in more than 32,000 hectares land. Its average annual production is 0.30 million metric tonnes. Bihar makes for 40 per cent of total litchi production in India.

Farmers were expecting a good harvest due to less pollution this time around. But there is a looming concern.

“Who will buy our fruits when the fixed income groups are losing jobs and living under severe stress?” said Bhola Nath Jha, a litchi grower from Muzaffarpur.

Jha owns 600 litchi trees and 200 mango trees. Each litchi tree fetches him Rs 10,000 on an average.  

“Lockdown has led to a fall in consumer demand. Purchasing fruits is probably the common man’s last choice,” Jha added.

Jha owns several litchi orchards in Muzaffarpur, famous for luscious Shahi litchi. He said local sugarcane farmers shifted to litchi cultivation after most sugar mills were shut down in the state in the early 1990’s.

“Over the years, our economy had increasingly become dependent on litchi. But we are apprehensive in view of recent developments,” he said.  

Last year, litchi business was severely hit by rumours that litchi consumption led to encephalitis in children, according to farmers.

Bachcha Prasad Singh, a litchi grower and president of Bihar Litchi Growers Association, said they had been supplying litchi fruits to metro cities — approximately 1,500 tonnes to Delhi and 1,000 tonnes to Mumbai. The trade in both cities has been badly affected by COVID-19.

“Currently, both Delhi and Mumbai figure in the red zone. It will take another 14 days for them to enter orange zone, and then another fortnight to enter the green zone. An entire month or more could be lost in the process. By that time, litchi season will be over,” he rued.

For a district to come out of red zone into orange zone, it should not record any new cases for 14 days. To enter green zone, the district should not record any new COVID-19 case for another 14 days.  

Litchis are sold from third week of May till second week of June. Their shelf life is two-three days.

“We will be able to sell only 25 per cent of our produce this time,” said Singh.

The total market for litchi is around Rs 1,000 crore, according to Singh.

Alok Kumar Kedia, a litchi exporter in Muzaffarpur, said his company processes 10,000-12,000 tons of fruits every year and exports litchis to Netherlands, Canada, Germany, England, France, etc.

“Our sales have dipped 30 per cent due to lockdown, long winters and the slowdown from August 2019,” Kedia said.

However, efforts are being made to rush litchi growers’ products to markets, according to Nand Kishore, Bihar Horticulture director-cum-managing director of State Bagwani Mission. 

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