Siliguri, Nov. 10: The good news first: orange production in Mirik is good this year compared to earlier times.
Now for the bad news: pests are feasting on green oranges before they can ripen.
Crestfallen cultivators can do little other than pray that the pests are kind enough to spare a good portion of the fruit so that they can do business this year.
First noticed in the eighties, the pests have struck frequently in late October and early November.
It is a kind of fruit fly which enters the fruit and sucks it dry. The green fruit turns a pale yellow and falls off the tree, said Gajen Gurung, an orange cultivator.
We have written to the department of agriculture several times, but very little has come of it. We are trying on our own by using a variety of sprays, but due to little technical know-how, we do not know how to do it effectively, said D.C. Rai, a cultivator in Pailagaon.
The fruit fly menace is one of many problems that orange cultivators are facing. There are three other plant diseases that the cultivators are trying to cope with at present.
Fusre, which looks like a fungal infection, attacks the leaves which crumble due to its effect and Gamis, another disease, attacks the tree branches. A gum-like substance forms on the branches and causes the branches to break and fall. Another type of pest eats into the main trunk of the tree, killing it. All these problems have severely affected the production of oranges, Rai said.
Principal agriculture officer of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council Mrityunjay Manna said: At the moment, nothing can be done. Preventive steps should have been taken before the flowering season. We are advising cultivators to do is to burn the infected fruit. If these are not burnt, the larva of the pest will enter the soil and lie dormant for the whole year. It will complete its life-cycle and attack the fruits again next year.
The authorities are now mulling over ways to tackle the pest problem.
We will convene a meeting to discuss agricultural problems with our officers. We will concentrate on the problems of orange cultivation. Orange cultivation has a good prospect in the hills. We are planning to start a participatory method of creating awareness, so that the effect percolates to the grassroots, Manna said.
The hills are the single largest supplier of oranges to the state. Bhutan oranges, in a less pronounced way, and Nagpur oranges, which are available in the last days of the season, are also sold in the market. Mirik oranges are, however, the most sought after because they are sweet.
Around 430 acres of land is under orange cultivation in Mirik. In Darjeeling district, the total land under orange cultivation is 2,500 acres.