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India: Elephants and bunchy top in bananas

hindu business

TN’s hill banana plantations wilt under elephant, viral attacks

A bunch of Hill banana grown in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu

Animal menace, inadequate insurance cover have resulted in shrinking acreage of the fruit

Kochi, April 20

Rampaging wild elephants coupled with Bunchy Top Banana (BTB) disease have hit Hill Banana growers in the Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu.

Found only in the Palani Hills of Dindigul, hill banana — locally called ‘Virupakshi’ — is a highly remunerative crop that can be harvested in 18-36 months .

This specific variety has a commercial importance and it caters only to Chennai market with a sales of around 50,000 fruits per day in the price range of 60-80/kg, said TVSN Veera Arasu, Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Hill Banana Growers Federation.

However, wild elephants straying into the fields in search of food and water have wrought havoc in several areas, causing financial loss to farmers.

The hill banana crop is the livelihood of farmers in 29 villages in the region.

But without any adequate insurance protection available, farmers are starved of funds to start the next crop.

“I have lost around 40 lakh in the last season due to the damage caused by wild elephants in my farm. Majority of the farmers here are scared to come back to banana cultivation,” he said.

Acreage down

Arasu, who was in Kochi recently to attend the farmers conclave organised by the Kerala Farmers Federation, told BusinessLine that the banana acreage has also come down to 3,000 acres compared to 16,000 acres five years back.

The threat of damage discourages new entrants to take up banana cultivation.

“To control the elephant menace, we have an assurance from the authorities to set up trenches and solar fencing for crop protection,” he said.

“We have successfully controlled BTB disease in the early 2000 with the help of Tamil Nadu Agriculture University. As the virus started attacking the plants again, we have approached the National Research Centre for Banana, Tiruchi, along with TNAU for remedial measures”, he said.

Highly remunerative

Among all the plantation crops, hill banana is the only crop which provides a weekly income to farmers, whereas remuneration from all other crops was on annual basis.

The Federation has been successful in obtaining GI certification for Virupakshi and Sirumalai — the two varieties of Hill Banana — a favourite fruit during the British period.

The famous Panchamritham in Palani Temple is made out of Virupakshi banana, the pulp of which is the main ingredient, he added.

 

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