India: Encephalitis costs litchi trade Rs 1 bln

With experts holding litchis responsible for aggravating encephalitis deaths in Muzaffarpur, the summer fruit, mainly produced in this Bihar’s district, is facing the heat as its industry is estimated to have suffered losses of around Rs 1 bln (€12.8 mln).

The price of shahi litchi has dropped by 50 per cent, currently selling arounds Rs 70 (€0.90) a kilogram in the retail market. Several consignments of litchi juice are lying at the ports of US, Australia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), New Zealand and United Kingdom. In fact, people are scared of consuming even packed litchi juice.

Industry experts are thankful that the epidemic has struck at the end of the litchi season, leading to lesser losses for them.

And as death toll has increased due to the Acute Encephalitis syndrome (AES) epidemic, the Bihar Government has advised parents against giving the fruit to their children on empty stomach even as Odisha has ordered litchi’s lab tests. The Rajasthan Government on its part has directed officials to remain alert in the State.

Experts believed that litchi contains a toxin which can cause a drop in blood sugar levels if consumed by a malnourished child, leading to death.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, 250,000-3,00,000 tons of litchi were produced on 32,000 hectare in Bihar in 2018. The Ministry has projected 710,000 tons production of litchi in its first advance estimate, released last month.

India is the second largest producer of litchi in the world after China. Bacha Prasad Singh, president of Litchi Growers Association of Bihar, told The Pioneer that litchi growers have witnessed nearly 50-60 per cent decline in sale of litchi in the past one week after it was reported that AES has some connection with this sweet and juicy summer fruit.

More testing
In other states, testing of litchi samples has become a priority. The Odisha government on Tuesday ordered laboratory test of litchi fruit being sold in the markets.

The government sprang into action after reports that litchi consumption was one of the factors behind the spread of AES.  

The direction for laboratory test of litchi was issued by state Health and Family Welfare minister Naba Das: "The minister has asked the Food Safety Commissioner to collect and test samples of litchi being sold in the market," an official at the minister's office said.

The minister has further directed that litchis collected from market should undergo laboratory tests, to ascertain the toxic content keeping in view its negative impact on human health.


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