Chilli is finally adding some spice to the agriculture growth story of Madhya Pradesh,a vast state generally not associated with horticulture.
Khargone,which is the largest producer of the chilli crop in the state,harbours an ambition to overtake Guntur,though it has a long way to go before it catches up with the Andhra Pradesh district that boasts the biggest chilli mandi in Asia.
Helping the MP district in its quest are,in fact,some progressive farmers and traders from Andhra,who will soon become part of an arrangement to increase acreage under chilli and boost productivity in Khargone.
Farmers owning close to 3,000 hectares in Zhiranya block of Khargone district will replace their traditional seeds with hybrid varieties. The purchasers in AP will pay MP farmers more than they pay back home. Bedia in Khargone is the only marketing yard for chilli in MP and has an annual turnover of more than Rs 80 crore.
If the proposed arrangement attracts more farmers,chilli production could drastically increase in MP where farmers suffer from lack of education and access to techniques but score mainly because of natural reasons.
Farmers are not necessarily entrepreneurial but could benefit from owning fields in areas having the right temperature suited for the chilli crop, says director (horticulture) Anurag Srivastava.
Unlike MP,farmers in Andhra are more educated and have been using hybrid varieties for quite some time. Progressive farmers such as Mekala Laxminarayan have won awards for innovations.
In MP,improved irrigation over the last few years and financial assistance under the National Horticulture Mission has led to a substantial increase in chilli production in Khargone,Dhar,Khandwa and Barwani districts,especially in the last couple of years.
When farmers and traders in Andhra Pradesh realised the potential of Khargone,they started making quiet enquiries in the region. They used to purchase chilli from Bedia in the past because it was cheap. But now their intervention will involve much more.
Joint director (Indore division) S K Khaskalam,who regularly interacts with the AP farmers and traders,says the MP farmer will stand to benefit because his cost of production is lower than that of his AP counterpart who uses costly hybrid varieties and spends on seed protection.
Production in MP started to increase when farmers switched from the seed varieties known only for their red colour and pungency.
Former Bharatiya Kisan Sangh vice-president Bhawani Chaudhary,a resident of Sanawad in Khargone district,says farmers in his region mainly grow chilli and cotton cash crops that give good returns. Though excess rains this monsoon may take its toll on production,the chilli crop has a future.