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India - Farmers fear losses due to weather-hit crop

The irregular weather conditions since mid January may impact the litchi crop’s quality and quantity in Bihar, fear farmers and agriculture scientists. Muzaffarpur and neighbouring districts account for more than 62% of India’s litchi production, down from 70% registered till a couple of years back. 45,000 litchi farmers are estimated to be in Muzaffarpur district alone, according to officials.

“Litchi is grown on 46% of cultivable land in Muzaffarpur district, which on an average produces 1.5 lakh tonne of the fruit. But the temperature has played a spoilsport, resulting in a drop in the produce this year. The farmers of the north Bihar region fear a reduced crop,” said Bhola Nath Jha, one of the largest producers and exporters of the tropical fruit from the state.

Vishal Nath, director of National Research Centre on Litchi (NRCL) in Muzaffarpur, said for thousands of farmers, litchis were the primary source of livelihood. “Muzafffarpur’s shahi (royal) litchi is famous for its big size, unique flavour, aroma and taste. It is not available anywhere else. But because of the unpredictable weather conditions, its quality can turn out to be poor some times as is feared this year.”

Dr SD Pandey, a senior scientist at NRCL said litchi was affected by weather variations more than any other summer fruit. “Litchi is a sub-tropical fruit and requires a specific climate, unlike the off-season rains and unexpected temperature fluctuations seen in the current litchi season. Diurnal temperature variations (difference between day and night temperatures) too, play an important role in regulating the overall fruit growth, including total soluble solid content of the fruit, its acidity and sugar-to-acid ratio,” he said.

Pandey claimed that the usual growth of the fruit seen during this period did not take place this time. “Fruit growth was slow because litchi grows under a specific micro-climatic condition. The temperature was very low during the flowering of the fruit and it was not good for its natural growth,” said the expert.

The feared loss in litchi crop’s quality and quantity will result in a second consecutive year of heavy losses to farmers, whose fortunes were hit by the outbreak of coronavirus last year, said Bachcha Prasad Singh, a progressive farmer and the president of National Litchi Growers’ Association.

Ashok Choudhary, a manager of a large litchi orchard in Jhaphan, said that the bad signs were beginning to show. “Traders were not lining up to buy the orchards. Earlier, we used to sell our orchard by the end of February. The reason is none other than an estimated loss in crop due to unfavourable weather conditions. We have sold litchi orchard spread over three bighas of land for 80,000 this year. What can we do? There is a problem in the market,” he said.

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