Smarter chillies

Published : Mar 09, 2007 00:00 IST

A polyhouse at Mandapadu in the district.-T. VIJAYA KUMAR

A polyhouse at Mandapadu in the district.-T. VIJAYA KUMAR

GUNTUR, which has Asia's largest market yard for red chillies, accounts for 60 per cent of the country's exports of this hot spice. The recent spurt in demand for this produce in the international market has encouraged the government to help farmers improve the quality of the harvest.

The Department of Horticulture has set up a modern laboratory to check contamination of the produce. The Horticulture Mission, Guntur, headed by District Collector G. Jayalakshmi, has done some path-breaking work in reducing the risk of the toxic mould, aflatoxin, affecting the produce.

Enthused by the result of a pilot study on the efficacy of drying chillies in a polyhouse, the Department has provided 50 per cent subsidy to growers to set up this facility. The dome-shaped polyhouse, constructed with polythene sheets and steel tubes, raises the temperature within to a level 15{+0} higher than the temperature outside, which creates the right atmosphere to dry the chillies and thus prevents the formation of moulds.

"In the conventional method of drying the produce on platforms, night dew and unseasonal rains could cause huge damage during the fortnight-long process," Mekala Lakshminarayana, a progressive farmer, said. Polyhouses have perforated stacking racks in which heat gets evenly distributed, leaving no scope for blemishes in colour or for moisture retention.

With the total drying time reduced to a week, the farmer spends less on wages, and the reduced hours of manual handling results in less damage to the produce, K. Balaji Naik, Assistant Director, Horticulture Department, said.

The returns on chillies dried in polyhouses have been found to be 30 per cent higher compared with the returns from those dried in the open.

The Department has been encouraging the use of natural inputs such as bio-fertilizers and promoting the practice of integrated pest management (IPM) to reduce toxic residues in crops in order to make them acceptable in the international market. The Union Ministry of Commerce has directed the Department to ensure the use of bio-fertilizers in conjunction with IPM practices in the next two years in 50 per cent of the 54,000 hectares under chillies.

Ramesh Susarla
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