Friday, June 05, 2009

No cold chain, litchi trade dips in Bihar


Come litchi season this summer, the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar would be ready with the customary packets of the fruit for the President and Prime Minister. Litchis, often touted as the speciality of the state, have been playing their part in diplomacy.

However, the importance attached to it seems to end with this symbolic gesture. Neither the state Government nor the Central ministers from Bihar seem to be interested in exploiting the fruit’s potential for export or expand sales to other parts of the country.

Bihar has given the country many a Railway Minister, right from Ram Vilas Paswan to Lalu Prasad Yadav. They all spoke of providing special air-conditioned bogies to take litchis from Bihar to the metros but did not follow up on the assurances leading to a situation where certain fresh vegetables and fruit chains sold litchis for a prohibitive Rs 120-150 per kg while farmers at Muzaffarpur could procure them for a mere Rs 15-20 per kg.

The production and export of litchis has been dipping for the last four years though of the varieties, Shahi and China, the former has been more in demand due to its aroma and rich pulp.

This year, only 50,000 tonnes of litchis have been sent out of Bihar so far as against 1.5 to 2 lakh tonnes three years ago. Muzaffarpur has produced only 1 lakh tonnes of litchis — 25 per cent of its usual production because of heavy temperature fluctuation during the litchi farming season between January and May. Litchi is grown on about 28,000 hectares in Bihar along the banks of the Burhi Gandak and Muzaffarpur has been the leading producer. Shahi litchi, also used for making litchi essence, is used by processing units to make litchi pulp and is exported mainly to Nepal.