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Haldibari counts few chillies

- Farmers say less production and bad weather led to lower yield of vegetable

Haldibari, July 3: Haldibari cannot kill the hot chilli problem for Mamata Banerjee, according to farmers and traders of a region that grows the vegetable for the rest of Bengal.

The reasons that farmers cited were inclement weather and less production in the peak season.

Yesterday, while addressing the matter of rising vegetable prices, especially the chilli that is selling for Rs 200 a kg, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said: “The state’s chilli production largely takes place in Haldibari and South 24-Parganas. The production in South 24-Parganas was hit this summer because of severe heat, but the production in Haldibari is more or less up to the mark.”

But block agriculture department officials said according to their numbers, Haldibari had grown 18,000 tonnes of chillies less than last year.

Asked if Haldibari’s production would help the government tide over the crisis, Binod Lahoti, a chilli merchant, said: “We cannot meet the current demand as production of chillies in the current year was less compared to last year. This happened because farmers, who had to sell chillies at Rs 5-Rs 6 a kilo last year because of excessive production, cultivated other crops this time. Chilli was grown in lesser area than last year, which has brought down production.”

He added: “Whatever was produced was sold across the state and to other parts of the country. Farmers have got higher prices than last year, and right now, there are only a few agricultural plots from where chillies can be harvested and sold.”

According to Lahoti, last year, around 1,500 trucks — each carrying 6-12 tonnes of chilli, depending on the size of the truck — were sent to other states while another 1,000 trucks were sent to other districts of Bengal. “This year, only 1,000 trucks carried chillies outside while another 700 distributed the produce throughout the state,” the businessman said.

Pranab Chakraborty, secretary of the Haldibari Vegetable Loading Welfare Association, concurred. “The principal season for the chilli ended last month. Even if the requirement was conveyed to us by mid-June, around 20 trucks of chilli could have been supplied across the state,” he said. “We have no option but to depend on chillies brought from Punjab, Karnataka and Bihar.”

Farmers admitted that because of lower prices last year, they cultivated chillies on lesser area this year.

Subhash Burman, a farmer, said: “We need rainfall spread over a few days for the chillies to grow but this year, there were heavy rain for two-three days which washed away the saplings.”

Burman, however, said that a few farmers, who have plot located in considerably higher areas, could save some of their produce. “A few tonnes of chillies are coming to Haldibari market everyday. Today, the wholesale price ranged from Rs 80 to Rs 90 per kg instead of Rs 30 per kg in June,” he said.

“However, even if all the available crop in Haldibari is gathered, it will not be more than 10 tonnes, a meagre quantity for an entire state.”

Officials of the block agricultural department furnished statistics to substantiate the points made by merchants and farmers. “Last year, around 59,000 tonnes of chilli were grown over 2,400 hectares in Haldibari. In the current year, 41,000 tonnes have been produced over 2,100 hectares. This means a shortage of 18,000 tons,” said Sanjib Maiti, the assistant director of agriculture in Haldibari.

“Also, in 2011, it had rained 200-250mm in May-June but this year, it rained around 200mm on one day, thus severely affecting the fields.”

According to him, the variety of chillies produced in Haldibari is harvested only once in a year.

“Unlike other regions where chillies of other varieties are produced round the year, it is produced only once in Haldibari. There is a steady demand for the chilli as this variety does not perish even after 10 days and can bear high temperatures,” the official said.