MIZORAM: In one of India's remotest districts, Siaha along the Myanmar border in Mizoram, a ‘red hot’ initiative by the local administration has added spiced to the mundane work of local farmers.
The farmers of Siaha grow the Bird's Eye Chilli, one of the hottest varieties, which has been accorded the geographical indication (GI) tag. They used to sell their chilli crops to traders from Silchar in Assam and got meager prices. Now, they are earning 14 times more.
The turnaround in their lives came when they took to selling powdered chilli thanks to infrastructure put in place under a convergence of government schemes last year. The person who made this possible was district magistrate Bhupesh Chaudhary.
"Earlier, the farmers faced a problem in marketing their produce. They used to sell a kg of green chilli at just Rs 50 and dry chilli at Rs 150. The DM devised the project and got the infrastructure set up. Now, the farmers get Rs 700 for a kg of powdered chilli," said C Galilee, Additional Programme Officer, District Rural Development Agency.
Processing and packaging machines, solar tunnels to dry the chillies, water tanks, store house etc. were installed under the convergence of schemes such as RKVY-Raaftar, MGNREGA and Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture. The machines were provided by Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited under its CSR programme.
The project was started at Zyhno village in a phase-wise manner from February 2019. Soon, the farmers of neighbouring Siatlai, Chheihlu, Ahyhmpi, Khopai and Laki villages joined in. The first batch of powdered chilli was up for sale in December last year.
They sell packaged powdered chilli under the brand name of ‘Maraland Ahiah Paohpa’. And such is the response that farmers of other villages also now want to grow only chillies. "This processing-cum-packaging unit was set up with the aim to provide sustainable source of livelihood to all the chilli farmers in Siaha district. Earlier, they were mere labourers working in their own land and cultivated chilli once a year. There was no market linkage for their produce. Traders and middlemen used to offer them a very low price," DM Chaudhary said.
He said after the district administration gauged the potential of the product in domestic markets, it took the initiative to help the farmers move up the value chain. They were organised under 25 self help groups and a cooperative society comprising 283 members. Subsequently, training in technical and basic business concepts was provided. The farmers were also handed FSSAI certification and India Organic certification.
Now, one kg of powdered chilli earns the farmers Rs 700. "We were exploited by the traders. Now, we are getting a handsome price. We are thankful to the administration," said LC Lawkhei. 'This has increased our income manifold. I have resolved to do only chilli farming from now on," said KT Masa, another farmer.