Tripura’s ‘Queen’ or Queen pineapple, which was declared ‘state fruit’ by President Ramnath Kovind in 2018, is facing the heat of the coronavirus-induced lockdown this year.
With no workers available, and partly due to a dry spell, pineapple growers in the state say they are looking towards a grim business.
“There were no workers available to tend the pineapple plantations. Nobody wanted to come out to work out of fear of coronavirus. Also there were nearly no rain at the right time. The fruits are still small, immature, below the international export standards”, 65-year old Naresh Chandra Deb told indianexpress.com.
Naresh and his younger brother Dulal Chandra Deb own 55 kani or 8.83 hectare ancestral pineapple plantation at Nandanangar in West Tripura.
Naresh and Dulal’s father Pramode Chandra Deb started pineapple plantation here in the 1970s. Five decades later, his four children – Dulal Chandra Deb, Naresh Chandra Deb and their two sisters are managing the orchards, which were split four ways. Once famous for its pineapple plantations, these four orchards are now relics of the past.
While the dry spell has affected the crops this year, Dulal Chandra Deb says there is no artificial irrigation facility in the plantations.
“We depend on rains for watering the plantation. It is very costly to maintain a sprinkler pipeline around the entire place. Our sales barely cover the labour and cultivation costs. And there were no rains this year except a few days of thunderstorms which do more harm than good. The government should support us with irrigation support immediately or else our plantations are done for”, he said.
On other years, they try to compensate the water crisis with ‘staggering’ or glucose solutions in the soil, allowing barren plants to bear fruits as well. This year there was no worker at call to do the bidding due to lockdown.
The Deb brothers have now sought government help for irrigation, providing new pineapple plants, regular procurement and marketing support.
“We don’t want agri loans. These are small amount of money and they would not do us any good. If we can have assured sale avenues for our products, we can also safely invest more in developing our orchard, focus on growing larger sized fruits”, Naresh said.
Usually, the large sized pineapples which weigh 700-800 grams a piece fetch a price of Rs. 7-8 to wholesale dealers who collect from these orchards. Smaller ones, which weight 250-300 grams don’t sell more than Rs. 1.5-2 a piece.
Nandannagar’s plantations come under in the second category and even as the pineapple plants have borne fruits, nearly none of them seem to sell at any promising price.
So, the growers now want the government to set up new processing factories. There were a few factories at industrial growth centre in Arundhatingar which shut down years back. A fruit processing plant operated by North Eastern Regional agricultural Marketing Corporation Limited (NERAMAC), a central PSU, shut down over a decade back as well.
The state’s BJP-IPFT government laid heavy stress on developing local resource-based industries and entrepreneurship and promoted the ‘Queen pineapple’ since they assumed office in March, 2018. They announced plans to revive the NERAMAC processing unit and start pineapple processing there as well but work is still in progress.
Over 130 MT pineapples were exported to Dubai, Doha, Bangladesh and different states of India in 2019, much higher than 30 MT sale in the previous year.
Even with poor production picture this year, a senior agricultural officer of the state government said that the condition is not so bad.
“There were significant damages inflicted by monkeys on pineapple plantations on other side of barbed wire fence which were left unattended due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. Queen pineapples have started to sell, though the flow is slow due to transportation problems in lockdown. But we aren’t concerned about the Queen pineapples. They will sell alright. The smaller fruits and other varieties like kew may need some work”, the official, who didn’t wish to be named, said.
He agreed to the growers’ demand on need of fruit processing industry but said it remains the prerogative of the Industries and Commerce Department.
Tripura grows an estimated bulk of 1.28 lakh MT pineapples every year across 8,800 hectare orchards in different districts. Some of these orchards are run by the government but most of them are privately owned. Over 4,000 pineapple growers are directly connected to the cultivation of the fruit here.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines