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Go bananas over cattle fodder

- Bhim kol finds baby food avatar

Jorhat, April 17: A local variety of plantain called bhim kol has got a fresh lease of life after two entrepreneurs from Assam started manufacturing a baby food from the raw material.

Indukalpa Bharali started the production of Bhimvita (made from bhim kol) on the river island of Majuli nine years ago. Inspired by Bharali, another entrepreneur, Pradip Borah, began manufacturing Bhim Shakti, a similar product, a couple of months ago.

Bhim kol is usually used to feed cattle and babies after de-seeding. It is readily available in Majuli and in Lakhimpur district.

Bharali said when he started, he used to buy a banana for 25 paise but the cost today has increased to 80 paise. “I now go further inland in Lakhimpur district to collect ripe bananas, which are used to make the powder mixture for Bhimvita.”

“People of Majuli sometimes drop off the bananas for free. Sometimes, I used to collect them for 25 paise apiece from Majuli. Now, I go to Kekuri on the island to get the bananas for 80 paise,” Bharali said.

Bharali said after he began production, the cost of bhim kol had gone up but people also began growing it on fallow land.

However, this has raised questions on the sustainability of the industry since growing the “wild banana” was unviable for farmers.

Horticulturist Ananta Saikia, however, said he would recommend that the two entrepreneurs grow the variety themselves on 15 to 20 bighas of land.

“Growing bhim kol is unviable for farmers as it bears fruit in two years compared to jahanji or other varieties which bear fruit within a year. Moreover, owing to the low price — 80 paise — compared to Rs 3 to 4 for other varieties and poor market demand because of being seeded, farmers do not like to waste cultivable land or time in growing bhim kol,” he said.

Saikia further said the number of bananas in a full bunch of bhim kol was much less (seven to eight) compared to other varieties (15-20).

Bhim kol grows naturally in the wild and is nutritionally better than other varieties.

Bharali said Bhimvita cost Rs 175 for a tin of 300 grams, while Borah’s product cost Rs 170 for the same quantity.

Borah said he was on the lookout for a loan to buy the costly machinery required to de-seed and dry the bananas.

“Now, I produce everything manually through a process I learnt in Tamil Nadu. I have learnt some techniques from the Assam Agricultural University here as well. Owing to the lack of machinery, I cannot produce in bulk. The demand is around 5,000-7,000 containers per month whereas I produce only 300-400,” he said.