Lockdown leaves Bihar’s litchi growers in the lurch
No buyers for the crop with just weeks left for peak season
- The prolonged lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic has put Bihar’s more than 45,000 litchi farmers in a bind as they stare at imminent losses amounting to almost ₹1,000 crores this year. Bihar, especially the Muzaffarpur district, accounts for almost 40% of the total litchi production in the country.
- Last year our litchi business was severely hit by rumors that its consumption leads to encephalitis. And this year, the prolonged lockdown is threatening huge losses for litchi farmers. The losses to the State’s litchi farmers this year would likely amount to not less than ₹1,000 crores.
- Litchi is grown on more than 32,000 hectares of land in the State with annual production totaling to about 0.30 million metric tonnes.
- Normally, by this time of the year, the litchi traders, middlemen and agents from major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Ludhiana, Uttar Pradesh, Pune, Bengaluru, and Nepal would have come ahead of the plucking season to tie up produce from litchi orchards with local farmers while paying money in advance.
- Due to the lockdown, no one has come yet and the fruits are about to ripen in the next 20-25 days.
- The problem is litchi is a perishable fruit with a shelf life of two or three days, and if it doesn’t get buyers on time all will be lost.
- Every year, farmers have been sending approximately 1,500 tonnes to Delhi and 1,000 tonnes to Mumbai from Muzaffarpur but due to the lockdown both these cities are badly affected and none of those traders have contacted yet.
- The peak litchi season is between the third week of May and the second week of June. Litchi exporters from Muzaffarpur said their plant usually processes 10,000-12,000 tonnes of the fruit annually and exports it to countries like Germany, England, France, Canada, and the Netherlands but that this year “due to lockdown and slowdown of the market our sales have dipped about 30%”.
The other problem for the growers is the lack of availability of wooden boxes in which the fruit is packed for export.