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Rancid returns for pineapple growers

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By OUR CORRESPONDENT Cachar
  • Published 11.08.09
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Aug. 11: It has been a bad summer for pineapple growers in Cachar, where secondary effects of bamboo flowering in Mizoram have shrivelled the lush tangy growth and cut into annual profits.

Pineapple grows in abundance in the uplands of Hmarkhawlien, a scenic village in Cachar’s Lakhipur subdivision.

Over the years, Hmar farmers have perfected their manure and cultivation skills to produce the juiciest varieties of pineapple, which are supplied to markets in distant Nagaon and Guwahati.

Though they have learnt ways to trick unfavourable climate, the side effects of bamboo flowering were probably unforeseen even for the most experienced farm hands.

The flowering of bamboo shoots not only devastated crops in Mizoram, but also shrivelled and dried up plants several kilometres away, a queer phenomenon that Hmar farmers failed to reverse.

With a hugely depleted output and yet no major rise in prices, the community that banks on its pineapple sale in summer for its annual profit is staring at a year of starvation.

Ngursunthang Hmar, the veteran Hmar community leader in Lakhipur subdivision and chairman of the Barak Valley Hill Tribals’ Development Council, is naturally a worried man.

By Ngursunthang’s estimate, which was corroborated by the district agriculture department, the production of pineapple in Hmarkhawlien will touch rock bottom at 80 lakh this year as against 1.5 crore reaped at this time last year.

Hmarkhawlien has 4,000 hectares for pineapple farming.

The crop is harvested twice a year — once in June and again in October, (known as the autumn pineapple, which is not very popular since it is sour compared to the delightfully tangy summer variety).

“The shortfall in the supply of this fruit did not result in rise in prices, as we were afraid that consumers would not buy the fruit if it was steeply priced,” Ngursunthang Hmar said.

The pineapples grown in Hmarkhawlien are bought by middlemen at Rs 5 for a big one and Rs 4 for smaller ones.

But once offloaded in Silchar (daily a fleet of at least 20 trucks head for different markets in the Barak valley districts) the price shoots up to Rs 10.

The Hmarkhawlien farmers, who do not have much of the political clout, have been crying for years for an organised government-sponsored market without middlemen, but the district administration is yet to heed their request.

Villagers have also been demanding a fruit processing factory in Hmarkhawlien for the past 15 years. That, too, remains a distant dream.