Traders and exporters of 'shahi-litchi' are worried as their sale has fallen substantially and export orders are markedly down following reports that there might be some litchi link with the outbreak of suspected acute encephalitis syndrome (AES).
"We have witnessed nearly 40 percent decline in sale of litchis in the last three days after it was reported that AES has some connection with this sweet and juicy summer fruit," K.P. Thakur, managing director of Litchica International, said Saturday.
Thakur said his company supplied litchis from Muzaffarpur to southern part of the country. "It appears that the fear of AES has forced the wholesalers to cut down its demand," he said.
Litchi trader R.K. Kedia said exporters across the country have limited their supply requests following reports that experts collected samples of litchi to identify the virus strain of AES in Muzaffarpur.
Unlike Thakur, Kedia smells a conspiracy behind the incident against the litchi growers. Mangoes grown in the southern part of the country are poor in taste as against litchi.
"I strongly feel that people in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh prefer litchi. So the mango growers must have conspired by defaming litchi," he said.
Haresh Prasandani of Chandi Ram and Sons, a firm exporting litchi for several decades, said reports linking AES to litchi have severely affected its demand recently.
Earlier this week, Prabhat Kumar Sinha, who is heading a six-member team from the Rajendra Memorial Research Institute of Medical Sciences, collected samples of litchi from orchards in affected areas for toxicology study after hue and cry over rising number of children's deaths due to AES.
Sinha said it would help to identify the virus strain of the disease that remains a mystery till date. "Now it will be known whether the disease was caused by litchi," Sinha said.
Some scientists in their reports attributed the disease to litchis in Muzaffarpur district. "It is a subject for in-depth research," Sinha said.
Vishal Nath, director of the Muzaffarpur-based National Research Centre for Litchi, said northern Bihar, including Muzaffarpur, accounts for over 62 percent of the country's total litchi production.
He said Muzaffarpur's 'shahi litchi' is famous for its unique flavour and taste.