Aug 16, 2018
Tripura’s newly-declared state fruit –The ‘Queen’ pineapple —takes to rotting itself in orchards due to low sales and false export promises. The ‘Queen’ pineapple recently cornered the market of global attention with courtesy to the series of exports to Dubai, Bahrain and other countries earlier this year, is now rotting in the orchards of Sonamura sub-division of Sipahijala district, 70 km south of Agartala.
Ever since the augment of BJP-IPFT government in Tripura on March 9 this year, they had strongly put forth the views on developing skills on local resource-based industries and entrepreneurship. ‘Queen’ pineapple as one of the three varieties of the tropical fruit that grows in Tripura has gained a special focus. Farmers of Sonamura, where the ‘Queen’ grows in abundance, is refer to it as “the sweetest variety of the fruit ever grown.”
During his visit to Tripura in June, President Ramnath Kovind declared it as the state’s official fruit, setting off an outbreak of celebratory headlines. But after the media reel died down, the ‘Queens’ were left alone to die a lonely death in the fruit gardens in different parts of the state.
Another blow was the sealing of the Indo-Bangla border (Tripura shares a 856 km-long international border with Bangladesh) to the fruit sales. Motinagar, Kamalnagar, Kalamchowra and other villages are located right beside the border. Barbed wire fence along the border has been erceted in most parts of the state. However, patches of 9km border area in Sonamura, and few parts of Dhalai district, are still unfenced and opened to illegal trade. Smuggling of clothes, rice, vegetables, foodgrains, narcotics, electronic gadgets, fish and pineapples used to be some major commodities till the early 2000s.
After the sealing of the Indo-Bangla border and tight security, pineapples from Sonamura don’t have much of the mobility towards Bangladesh market anymore. “Earlier, we didn’t have barbed wire fence in the border and many people used to smuggle the fruit to Bangladesh. But now there is no such scope,” pineapple grower Jakir Hussein of Kulubari village in Sonamura said so. Moreover, the domestic market was limited and there was nearly no State-promoted procurement of pineapples.
Tripura’s pineapple growers have a different version of the drawback. “Government assured us that our pineapples would be procured for export and we grew them alright. But nobody came to pick them up and tons of the fruit just rot away,” says Hussein.
According to the state horticulture department records, Tripura grows 1.28 metric tons of pineapples every year across 8,800 hectare orchards both government-owned and privately-owned farmlands. Over 4,000 pineapple growers are directly connected to cultivation of the fruit. Hussein, who is qualified engineer owns two ancestral pineapple orchards. He says he planted ‘Queen’ pineapple in all the gardens and harvested the crop around two months back when the government announced that private entrepreneurs would procure and export them to Dubai. “Someone came here and announced that they will buy pineapples at Rs. 10 per kg. We stock piled the fruit after we got news that dealers would come. But nobody came!” Hussein said.
Even the consignments which were exported never made it to their destination. The first consignment of 1 ton ‘Queen’ variety pineapple was dispatch to Dubai — via Delhi —on June 3. The consignment had 1,000 pineapples procured from eight farmers in Bilascherra village in Dhalai district. However, with the outbreak of Nipah virus scare in India and adjoining countries, the fruits were reportedly halted in Kolkata for many days, leading many to rot in the cargo. The horticulture department officials denied any confirmation on the issue since the export was done by private parties.
During the ‘flagging-off’ ceremony at Agartala on June 3, Agriculture minister Pranajit Singha Roy said promised that similar shipments would be made every two days. However, not a single pineapple was purchased from Sonamura for the purpose.
Another pineapple grower of Motinagar village, Delowar Hussein said that he harvested all his pineapple plants which were growing under the shade of his rubber plantation. Seeing no future sales prospect in sight and a huge maintenance cost, Delowar slashed them all.
Director of Horticulture and Soil Conservation Arun Debbarma, admitted that there were some issues regarding marketing and export of pineapples. “Efforts were taken to export pineapples to other countries this year. There was a problem regarding marketing earlier. We have noticed that there was a reduced sized crop due to certain practices. Those are not exportable. We don’t offer any compensation for such crops. But we are hoping to start a massive skill development training for pineapple growers from September this year to help them grow better crops”, he said.