Rs 9cr for litchi shelf-life boost
Patna: The agriculture department will spend Rs 9.95 crore in a bid to increase the shelf life of litchis, which are mainly cultivated in north Bihar districts.
Litchi cultivation is spread over about 32,000 hectares and the state produces around 2.50 lakh metric tonnes of the fruit.
"The agriculture department will provide financial aid up to 90 per cent of the total expenses to litchi growers to adopt the new technique of fruit preservation for enhancing its shelf life up to 60 days," agriculture minister Prem Kumar said.
The short shelf life of the fruit (around 20 to 25 days) hamstrings farmers and increases their dependence on bulk buyers from other states.
"Some litchi buyers from Delhi, Calcutta, Gorakhpur and Kanpur visit us every year and purchase our product in bulk," said Vinay Pandey, a litchi grower from Patahi in East Champaran.
"The short shelf life of the fruit does not allow us to bargain much as once the fruit quality deteriorates after plucking we do not get proper rate," he added.
The agriculture department has entered into an agreement with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, whose food technology division has developed a new technique in which four types of fruit preservatives and chemicals are used for enhancing the shelf life of litchis. The cost for it comes to between Rs 12 and 15 per kg.
Some of the farmers, however, have doubts about the preservation technique.
Bholanath Jha, a litchi grower from Jhapaha in Muzaffarpur, claimed that the trial of the preservation technique in the previous fruit season did not throw up the desired results.
Asked about it, a senior official in the agriculture department, said: "We are aware of the issue and the problem took place as the fruit was not dried properly after treatment. This time we will provide financial help to litchi growers so that they can make necessary preparations in advance when the next fruit season comes."
Litchi is generally plucked between the third week of May and the second week of June.
East Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, West Champaran, Sitamarhi, Sheohar, Samastipur, Bhagalpur, Saran, Begusarai, Khagaria, Darbhanga, Madhubani, Purnea, Siwan, Gopalganj and Katihar are the main litchi-producing districts.
"Farmers are rarely informed by the field officials about such initiatives," alleged Vinay Pande from East Champaran.
The agriculture department official, however, promised that field officials "would be taken to task in case we receive complaint against them as far as information dissemination is concerned. Also, we would launch a special awareness drive."