When the whole world sleeps, in the wee hours on Monday and Thursday every week, banana growers gather at the Daranggiri Banana Market in Assam’s Goalpara, the biggest banana hub of the Northeast. The Malbhog variety of banana which is supplied to Guwahati is sold on Mondays and the Cennichampa is sold on Thursdays; other varieties of banana like Jahaji, Bhim, Plantain are also found in abundance. It is one of the most sought after destination of banana traders across the country; the Cennichampa variety is particularly popular outside the State because of its unique sickly sweetness. But this organic banana hub of national repute has fallen on hard days, due to a variety of factors, most important being government apathy and State Horticulture Department’s indifference.
The demand of the Cennichampa variety is so high outside the State that between Durga Puja and Chat Puja, around 130 trucks (each truck carries 1400 to 1600 bunches) are supplied from the market. While a bunch of Cennichampa is sold for Rs 200 to Rs 250, a bunch of Malbhog is sold for anywhere between Rs 350 to Rs 400. Growers bring in green banana bunches, carrying upto 10 of them on bicycles, from 70 villages under Dudhnoi Agriculture Sub Division. Dr Abdul Haque Ahmed, lecturer of Bikali College, Dhupdhara says, ‘Before loading the banana bunches into parked vehicles, including long-distance trucks, they are stocked in the godowns of the market. Each bunch is manually wrapped by green banana leaves and subsequently loaded neatly. About 150 labourers do the loading daily, a figure which has been whittled down from 300 labourers. Sometimes farmers are deprived of getting adequate prices because of having no cold storage technology in place’. ‘It is impossible for us to go back home without selling the perishable produce. If we fail to sell them fresh, their value will depreciate,’ a group of farmers rued. ‘It is beyond our comprehension why the Government has not addressed the problems of a market from where thousands of people earn their living’ they further question.
During the monsoon, the muddy marketplace makes transaction close to impossible. There are pond-like potholes in the market spread over 5 bighas of land. The truckers, who make a beeline to the market from West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand with the coming of September, complain that the site is beyond motor able. ‘Every year, we need to repair the roads; otherwise the 12-wheeled trucks get stuck in the potholes. Repair works like earth filling and boulder pitching cost us Rs 5 lakh last year and made a big dent in our limited funds,’ says Hemkanata Rabha, President of Daranggiri Anchalik Unnayan Committee.
The same view is echoed by the traders who come to the market from other parts of the country. Saradhanad Saha of Bihar’s Siwan district told this writer, ‘The variety of bananas found in this part of the country is incredible. Our group transports 50 to 60 banana-laden trucks every year. Sadly, we witness no infrastructure upgradation of the market. Rather, it remains a locus of negligence and deprivation’. A nationalized bank near a market is crucial for conducting transactions with ease. Thus, the committee has been exhorting the Central Bank of India authorities for the last two years to open a branch near the market, with little success. The Dudhnoi-based SBI branch is 12 km away from the market so traders face tremendous inconvenience on a daily basis.
Technical Expertise Needed
Around 1990, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) was to set up a National Research Center of Banana in Assam. A national team had visited the Daranggiri Banana market to select a site; they were highly impressed with the market, but the Assam Government could not provide a suitable location as per the requirement of the visiting team. ‘We missed a huge opportunity! Having a national research unit here would have turned things around,’ says Nalin Mohan, former Chief Scientist of Horticulture Research Station, Assam Agriculture University. He had accompanied the team on their maiden visit. Later, the country’s lone NRBC was set up at Tiruchirapalli in Tamilnadu in 1993. Again, in 2008, the Assam Government had laid the foundation of a Daranggiri Banana Processing Project at the market premises, but after building the house, the project has so far remained incomplete.
Horticulture experts say that to tap the potential of the market, adequate infrastructure like common storage facility and technical support is a must. ‘How we could reduce the loss during transit pass is an all-important issue to be researched as 15 to 20 percent of the banana produce is damaged during transportation,’ Mohan says. Optimal return of their produce will be a fillip to other farmers.
The Daranggiri Anchalik Unnayan Committee which was registered in 1976 runs this market against all odds. The committee sends a group of members to other parts of country every year as part of a study tour. The body provides Rs 50,000 for the tour. This year, a 32 member group of the Committee will go to Bangalore. Against this, the lack of interest of the State Government stands out even more starkly.
Written By: Kishore Talukdar