Fickle weather can take juice out of litchi this season

Muzaffarpur, April 27: With the mercury peaking and rains and thundershowers lashing this litchi belt of Bihar sporadically, worried farmers have already started counting their losses this year.

Some predict that the litchi production could be down by 30-40 percent due to inclement weather conditions.

“Till last week, we were hopeful of bumper production of litchi, but no more now. This year, litchi production will be down by 30 to 40 percent due to squalls coupled with hailstorms,” said Surender Singh, a litchi grower from Muzaffarpur district.

Another farmer, Bholanath Jha, told IANS that the litchi production this year would be significantly less than that of the last year, mainly because of hot weather and hailstorms which damaged the crop in many areas.

“I was upbeat about good crop early this month. But unpredictable weather damaged more than 50 percent of litchi crops,” he claimed.

There are others who are worried about irrigation of the juicy fruit crop. India is the world’s second largest litchi producer, and Bihar accounts for more than 74 per cent of the total production in the country.

“Litchi plants need to be watered at least three to four times a day. It is a difficult task in view of lack of irrigation facilities. Hot weather has made the situation worse,” said Satendra Kumar Sharma, another litchi grower in the region.

Scientists, too, are fretting over impending loss to the crop. “Litchi production could fall due to an extreme hot weather,” said Dr Vishalnath, director of Muzaffarpur-based National Litchi Research Centre. He, however, refused to give forecast on the possible losses.

Last year, Muzaffarpur had recorded bumper litchi crop due to favourable climate, he said.

According to officials at the centre, 35 degree Celcius is an ideal temeperature for litchi but for last few days, the temperature is hovering around 40 degree Celsius.

“Temperature is five degree Celcius higher that the optimum temperature. It is a bad sign for litchi growers,” they said.

Dr S.K. Purve, another scientist, said the litchi growers have been asked to take care of the crop and nurse the plant stems.

Litchi orchards are spread over Muzaffarpur and neighbouring districts. According to statistics available with the state agriculture department, litchi is cultivated in approximately 25,000 hectares in north Bihar. Every year, the region produces about 90,700 metric tonnes of litchi.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at imran.k@ians.in)

IANS