Always a hot favourite

Always a hot favourite

The very mention of Byadagi brings to our minds images of the famed chilli variety, known for its colour, flavour, taste and low pungency. The attractive red colour and the lingering aroma of a mild masala powder is normally attributed to this chilli. The variety is preferred not just by food enthusiasts, but also by companies that make masala products and cosmetics. Owing to its popularity, a commodity-specific market was established in Byadagi town even before independence.  

Byadagi is a taluk (the taluk headquarters is also called Byadagi) in Haveri district, where chilli was a main crop till the 1990s. In 1995, the emergence of a disease and infestation with virus and mites dealt a blow to the prospects of chilli farmers. Eventually, the yield reduced and production decreased. "Poor soil condition, change in weather patterns and lack of research also led to its decline, and gradually, farmers shifted to other crops like Bt cotton and maize. As a result, the chilli variety lost ground in its native," says M H Tatagara, a horticulture scientist who has done research on the crop. Encouraged by the popularity of Byadagi chilli, people from neighbouring areas started growing this variety. Now farmers in Haveri, Dharwad, Gadag, Raichur, Ballari and certain parts of Andhra Pradesh, which have similar agro-climatic conditions, grow this traditional variety.  Experts can identify the place of cultivation based on the quality of produce and  they say that the chillies grown in Byadagi area are the best.  

Though the area under chilli cultivation has shrunk, Byadagi continues its association with the variety through its renowned chilli market. Farmers from far and wide bring their produce to this market on Mondays and Thursdays. On these days, Byadagi town transforms into a business hub. One can see hundreds of trucks rallying to the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) yard, located five km away from Motebennur, between Ranebennur and Haveri. Traffic jams are common in this small town on these days. The 78-acre market yard gets filled with bags of these red diamonds. "Since the market has e-tendering facility, payment is made on the same day. There are 20 cold storage units in the town. We get a premium price here, which is much better compared to other markets. Hence, this is our preferred market," says Harischandra Reddy, a farmer.

Mild marvel

It is an experience to visit Byadagi chilli market on transaction days. The entire area gets a red hue even as hordes of people get busy trading and discussing chilli. Over 10,000 farmers, more than 5,000 labourers, nearly 850 porters and those who manage weighing scales, as many as 256 registered buyers and 254 registered middlemen, along with contract labourers, drivers, cleaners and others gather in this area. It is estimated that around 50,000 people come together in the name Byadagi chilli on a market day here. "This is the second biggest chilli trading centre in the country," says Raju Morigeri of APMC trader's association.

Byadagi chilli reaches the global market in various forms like dried whole chilli (with and without stem), chilli powder (ground and crushed), chilli paste, chilli seeds, chillies in brine, minced chillies, etc. It is also much sought-after in the oleoresin industry and the oleoresin extracted from it is used in the preparation of food and cosmetic products.  

There are 24 chilli processing units in Byadagi. Removing the stem of chilli has generated employment to over 5,000 women. A person can remove the stems of 50 to 70 kg chillies in a day and removing the stem of one kg chilli brings an income of  Rs 10. Apart from the women in Byadagi taluk, those from Haveri, Savanur, Hanagal and other neighbouring places come here to engage in this processing work.

Even as the popularity of Byadagi variety soared, there were attempts to sell other varieties in the name of this chilli. Understanding the special appeal and significance of this variety, which is unique to this region of North Karnataka, Byadagi chilli was accorded the geographical indication (GI) status in 2011. While this status underlines the uniqueness of the variety and acknowledges the place it is grown, it protects the brand identity, thus saving it from imitation. With all these efforts, Byadagi continues to be a popular brand name.

"Still, other varieties come here in the guise of Byadagi, but we can make out the difference and we quote high price only for Byadagi types," said the traders.  Around 80% of the chilli that is transacted in this market is used in the production of oleoresin. Byadagi chillies come in two types: dabbi and kaddi. Byadagi dabbi, which is small and plump, is more popular for its colour, flavour and taste. Though it has more seeds, it is less spicy compared to the kaddi variety. This variety is best suited for masala preparation and oleoresin extraction. Many established food companies prefer this variety for their products. Among cosmetic products, it is mainly used in nail polish and lipstick. The kaddi type is gnarled, thin, long and has fewer seeds.

"The financial transaction of Byadagi chilli market is no less than any multinational company. It has generated employment to thousands of people," says farmer Shankrappa Channabasappa Shidenur. The business involving Byadagi chilli has the second largest turnover among the chilli varieties in the country and it amounts to 20% of global chilli export.  

Apart from Byadagi chillies, we can see other varieties such as Guntur, Namadhari, Indo, 'duplicate Byadagi', Rashni, and the ones developed by research institutes in this market.  The records maintained at the market indicate that in the year 1948-1949, the market had seen a merchandise of nearly 87,000 quintal. On April 4, 2016, the market saw the highest procurement in a day so far: when over 60,000 quintal chilli was procured. In 2016-2017, the market had made a transaction of Rs 1,025 crore with a procurement of 11.93 lakh quintal chillies.  "Of this, 7.5 lakh quintal chilli is Byadagi variety (5.35 lakh quintal Byadagi dabbi and 2.15 lakh quintal Byadagi kaddi). Byadagi chilli amounts to 60 to 65% of the total procurement in this market," says B M Srinivas, secretary, Byadagi APMC.

Colour, the saviour

Interestingly, if pesticides or insecticides are sprayed to this crop, the colour of the chilli turns white, eliminating its most valued characteristic, the red colour. Thus, chemical usage is very low on this crop, making the produce safe.  "Byadagi chilli is grown in around 20,000 hectare area in Haveri district of which 80% is sold as green chillies. The remaining quantity comes to the chilli market," says S P Bhogi, deputy director, Department of Horticulture, Haveri. This is a six-month crop and mostly rainfed.

It is interesting to see how chilli is used as currency here, reminding one of the ancient barter system. For instance, certain quantity of chilli is given for some services; farmers exchange chilli with sweets and other food stuff. It is not surprising that a chilli variety that has so much to offer remains to be a hot favourite.

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