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Banana trade hit in Assam
Traders with their produce at the Daranggiri banana market. Telegraph picture

Dhubri, Nov. 27: Daranggiri, the largest banana market in the Northeast, is going through a rough patch.

The market, which once had the distinction of being the largest banana retail hub in Asia, has been witnessing a downslide in the quantum of trade in the last five years owing to various factors, including government apathy and indifference of the state horticulture department.

A source said the market once supplied bananas to Nepal and states like West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and a part of Uttar Pradesh, adding that trade with Nepal had been hampered by the imposition of taxes.

Banana is the fifth most traded agricultural commodity in the world after cereals, sugar, coffee and cocoa. It is the second most important fruit crop in India, next only to mango. Its year-round availability, affordability, variety, taste and nutritive and medicinal value make it the favourite fruit among all classes of people.

Though banana is grown round-the-year, its peak season is from May-June to September-October when an average of 50 truckloads are sold in the tiny market of Darangiri, located near NH37 under Goalpara district.

But since the last five years, the volume of trade has not increased there despite an increase in demand as well as the number of consumers in the region.

A member of the Daranggiri Anchalik Unnayan Samiti, Nayan Rabha, said the slowdown indicated that Daranggiri bananas had lost out to some other variety.

He said though the chenichampa variety of bananas had huge demand in West Bengal and Bihar, supply from local plantations in parts of West Bengal had considerably reduced the demand in recent times. “Though it is still being supplied, the quantity is lower,” he added.

The samiti’s vice-president, Sarbeswar Rabha, said 70 per cent of the market’s bananas came from Meghalaya, while around 30 per cent were grown in Assam’s Goalpara and Kamrup districts. Malbhog and chenichampa were the two varieties that sold the most in the market, he said, adding that while malbhog was more popular in Assam, chenichampa was much sought after in other eastern Indian states.

There are nearly 15,000 people — from growers to sellers — involved in the market, which has a monthly turnover of Rs 3 crore during the peak season. Production of bananas in Assam in 2009-10 was 835 tonnes, with a productivity of 15.5 tonnes per hectare. Maharashtra recorded the highest productivity at 61.3 tonnes per hectare.

Traders said they were deprived of higher prices as the bananas could not be stored for long periods because of the lack of godowns.

But there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.

The state government now seems to be taking the banana sector seriously and a banana park is being set up at the Industrial Growth Centre at Matia in Goalpara district to facilitate value addition and marketing of fresh bananas and their derivatives.

Dispur has recently cleared the park under the public private partnership mode.

“The main component of the banana park project is going to be a common facility zone based on which around 20 processing units could be set up inside the park. A banana export development centre is being set up in the state to encourage commercial cultivation of bananas and to facilitate production of fresh and processed banana,” an Assam Industrial Development Corporation official said.

An 8.64-hectare plot has been earmarked for the proposed park at the Matia industrial estate. The techno-economic feasibility report of the Rs 1911.41-lakh project has already been prepared.

The Assam Industrial Development Corporation will be a major partner in the project, which is expected to generate around 500 direct and 1,500 indirect jobs.

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