In the seventies, Nandannagar in West Tripura district was a hotspot for pineapple cultivation. Today, all but one of the orchards have closed down in the suburban town. Planters say business is at an all-time low and the fruit is selling at less than half of market rate.
Take Pramode Chandra Deb for example. He started a pineapple plantation on 55 kani land at Nandannagar in the 1970s. Five decades later, his four children – Dulal Chandra Deb, Naresh Chandra Deb, Gita Deb and Dipali Dey are managing the orchards, which were split four ways.
“This entire place used to be a hotspot for pineapple cultivation once upon a time. Today we are the only ones who retained the plantations. Cost of cultivation has gone up, plus the Indo-Bangla border is fenced, cutting off sale to the neighbouring country. The government doesn’t procure anything as well,” 60-year-old Dulal Chandra Deb told indianexpress.com.
Dulal’s account, however, contradicts the government’s version. Tripura Horticulture Assistant Director Dipak Baidya earlier told this publication that 130 MT pineapples have already been exported from the state this year. The figures suggest a rise from 2018 which saw a sluggish export quantity (20 MT of fruit was exported to Dubai and Doha). This year’s export list includes Bangladesh too.
The ‘Queen pineapple’ – one of the three varieties of the tropical fruit that grows in the state — shot to limelight, especially after President Ramnath Kovind declared it as the state fruit of Tripura during his visit last year. The decision came after the incumbent BJP-IPFT government, which assumed office in Tripura in March 2018, laid emphasis on developing local resource-based industries and entrepreneurship.
According to records of the horticulture department, Tripura grows 1.28 lakh MT pineapples every year across 8,800-hectare orchards in different districts including Sonamura in Sepahijala district, Kamalpur in North Tripura and Ambassa in Dhalai district. While some of the orchards are run by the government, most of them are privately-owned. Over 4,000 pineapple growers are directly connected to the cultivation of the fruit.
“While pineapples were sold at Rs 18-20 per piece twenty years back, the fruit now barely sells at more than Rs 5-8 a piece,” said Dulal, who owns 25 kani land where he grows pineapples. The pineapple plants have grown old as well, and they only manage to bear small-sized fruits weighing 400-600 grams. These are not eligible to be procured by the government or private players.
Dulal’s brother, Naresh Chandra Deb, said managing his 15 kani pineapple orchard is a tough job. Irrigation is a major problem for his garden since it is located on an elevated plane and there is no pipeline in the area to sprinkle water on the plants. “We depend on rains for watering the orchard. There is no irrigation facility and maintaining a sprinkler pipeline is a costly proposition. Our sales barely sustain labour and cultivation costs. The government should support us with new pineapple plants, regular procurement and other help,” he said.
On Thursday, Javed Hussein, a young pineapple trader, was negotiating the price with Naresh and Dulal. “The growers are demanding Rs 8 per fruit. They don’t fetch a price higher than Rs 10 per unit. There are so many middlemen in the business. It has become very tough for us to survive with such a low margin,” he said.
In the same village, lives Manindra Marak — twenty years ago, he had an orchard of his own. But in the last ten years, production at his orchard dried up due to low profit and rising costs. “Pineapple production is very hard these days,” said the 65-year-old farmer, who now works as a daily wager in other orchards.
The growers are now demanding that the state government step in with support through subsidized pineapple saplings, fertilizers and regular procurement directly from them. “We get to sell a few tons off and on but the sales are very irregular. Often the fruits ripen and rot due to lack of sales,” said Dulal and Naresh.