In Punjab, it is litchi-picking season, but there are not many buyers. Farmers in the state are staring at huge losses and rotting produce after a video on social media linking the fruit to the Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) went viral.
AES has killed over 130 children in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district. And despite clarification by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) on June 25 stating that "there is no connection of litchi with occurrence of AES", there are no buyers for the fruit.
"I stopped picking the fruit in the last couple of days as there were no buyers in the market. The plucked fruits have already rotted due to the fake video doing the rounds," Gurvinder Singh, a farmer from Kila Jalmapur village, told timesofindia.indiatimes.com.
"We have been rearing our plants like a child for 10-15 years. Now, when it has started producing its full yield, there are no buyers..." Singh added.
The fruit is mainly grown in Punjab's Pathankot, Gurdaspur and Mukerian region of Hoshiarpur. Over 800 farmers are engaged in the business, spread across 1,600 hectares of land. According to the report, Punjab produces around 20,000 to 25,000 tonnes of the fruit.
Irfan, a contractor of litchi orchards, said he is now staring at a loss of Rs 3.5 mln (€44.450). "I am paying the labourers after taking money from a commission agent," Irfan said, adding that they have never faced such a situation in the 15 years that they have been in the business.
Pathankot Agriculture Development Officer Dr Amrik Singh said despite the department's efforts to spread awareness and educate the public, farmers are still unable to sell their produce.
Export to Nepal
The outbreak of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) in areas in Bihar near the Nepal border has also affected vegetable and fruit exports to the neighbouring country from the state. Authorities in Nepal have asked its customs check posts not to allow vehicles and bullock carts laden with fruit of vegetables to enter if the drivers fail to produce quarantine certificates. Hundreds of trucks loaded with fruits and vegetables are stranded at the customs check post at Birganj awaiting a nod from the customs office for the last six days.