Chinese, American hops dash Himachal hopes

Hops cultivators in Lahaul and Spiti district are planning to give up production as competing foreign varieties have flooded the Indian market. The crop has also been hit by too much rainfall.

"Foreign companies are supplying hops to the Indian brewery industry at much cheaper rates. To save the domestic industry from certain extinction, the import duty on hops should be hiked to 120 percent from the current 30 percent," Gurdev Singh, director of the state's horticulture department, told IANS.

Jammu and Kashmir was another state where the crop was cultivated. But fundamentalists in the state, opposed to the crop's use in alcoholic drinks, forced farmers to stop its cultivation.

The controversy has started taking a toll on production.Last year, Himachal Pradesh produced 47.2 tonnes of dry hops, which fell to 27 tonnes this year.

"There are two reasons for the  decline. One, the area under cultivation has declined from 75 hectares to 65 hectares. Secondly, plentiful rainfall during monsoon months of July to September have damaged the crop," Singh added.

Ishwar Dhyani, a farmer in Darcha village, said: "For the past 20 years we have been cultivating hops. Now, we have stopped the cultivation as the crop is not finding bulk buyers because of cheaper Chinese hops flooding the market."

A huge stock of last year's crop is still lying in stores, he added.Amrit Lal, manager of the Lahaul Hops Marketing Society, said the entire crop remained unsold last year as international prices crashed due to a glut.

"But this year, the crop is likely to get good prices. Last year's dried crop has been converted into pellets, which would be marketed this year," he added.

The society is being run by around 500 farmers, mainly from the Lahaul Valley and adjoining areas. Most of the farmers are cultivating the crop on small land holdings.
Hops are dried in kilns before they are sold in the market for processing.  The crop is ready for harvesting from August to September. Last year, the price of dry Indian hops was Rs.240 per kg.

The society has tied up with a private company, Aromatic Flora, based at Baddi in Solan district. The company, with a capacity to process 500 tonnes of hops annually, purchases the crop from farmers and sells it to distilleries after processing.

N.K. Gupta, deputy director of the horticulture department, said the maximum production of dry hops in the district was 130 tonnes in 1994. At that time, the area under cultivation was 215 hectares.

He said the entire Lahaul Valley has the potential to produce 1,000 tonnes of hops annually.The state government is promoting the commercial cultivation of the Late Cluster variety as it has maximum alpha acid content, and is one of the best qualities in the world.

Lahaul and Spiti district, populated mainly by tribals, remains cut off from the rest of the country for more than six months a year due to heavy snowfall. The climatic condition of the landlocked district is harsh, and much of the land falls under cold desert conditions.
The other cash crops in the district are peas, cauliflower and potatoes, besides fruit crops like apple, pear, apricot, almond and plum.

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