Andhra Pradesh's chilli yard inferno sets ablaze the spice market
NARESH NUNNA | Issue Dated: June 1, 2008
The recent inferno at the Guntur chilli market yard, considered to be Asia’s biggest such yard singed, metaphorically speaking, lakhs of households in Andhra Pradesh and beyond. In the aftermath of the fire that damaged dry chilli stocks heavily, prices of the spice were enflamed.
The chilli trade here - second only to Mexico in the world — is what makes Guntur’s hearths burn. As the price of the chilli variety used in making pickles rose sharply, touching an all-time high of Rs 8,000 per quintal, housewives across the state were hard pushed to make their meals work, because in Andhra Pradesh, no meal ends without a last lick of Guntur’s famous line-up of pickles.
The fabled gongura pickle travels to every corner of the world. In fact, at an official dinner hosted by the Indian embassy long ago, the only Indian item that Communist China’s boss Mao Dze Dong asked for a second helping was Andhra chilli pickle!
For pickles of mango, lime, gooseberries, tamarind, bitter gourd, and brinjals, and even for non-vegetarian pickles of chicken, mutton and prawn, chilli is everything. And the pure chilli pickle, which even the locals rather ominously call Tupakula Pachadi (‘gun pickle’), travels beyond the state’s borders.
Though official records pegged the cumulative damage at Rs 55 crore, it is roughly estimated that nearly Rs 200 crore worth of assets were destroyed.
In high season (February to May), the lanes of the yard are crammed dense with trucks and autos bringing in thousands of sacks of sun-dried chillies from all over Andhra and also the neighbouring states. On the day of the devastation, however, most of the farmers were left stranded, as the flames gutted everything in their path.
“Nearly 25 per cent of the stock from Andhra Pradesh, which produces roughly 50 per cent of the nation’s requirement, got damaged,” president of Guntur Chilli Merchants Association, Kilari Rosaiah told The Sunday Indian. Some 1.9 lakh out of 2.01 lakh bags of chilli were burnt, 500 shops gutted, and the sprawling yard lay in cinders.
Quite expectedly, opposition leader and Telugu Desam party chief N Chandrababu Naidu used the political gun powder, accusing sabotage by ruling Congress party, saying they had long eyed the site as prize realty.
The chilli market across the country was set ablaze in the afterheat of the fire. “Prices are likely to go up further, since there is very little stock in the market and a huge demand,” a commission agent, Nagam Srinivas told TSI. The high price scared away many women from going ahead with pickle-making, for some, their core livelihood.
Close on the heels of the high price of raw mangoes (at Rs 4 per piece), which are an essential ingredient for pickle making, the fiery prices of chilli have burnt out the hopes of many for a pickle treat this season. The prices, which stood at around Rs 5,700 per quintal since January this year, jump another two to three per cent when the crop was hit by unseasonal rains in March.
Due to the rains and ensuing crop damage, demand for quality chilli from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and China also peaked.
What is worse, the inferno further made the prices soar by 30 to 35 per cent, Rosaiah averred.