Unique chilly that refuses to spread out

Imphal: A variety of chilly, which grows upto eight inches long, is unique to a remote Naga-inhabited village nestled in the Mahadev hills in Manipur.

The chilly with its distinctive flavour and colour only grows in Sirarakhong in interior Ukhrul district.

Known to the people of Manipur as ‘Sirarakhong chilly’, it has turned out to be the main source of income for villagers, though the state government has not provided any help in its cultivation.

Only some social organisations, including ‘self help group’ federation, have given some assistance. “We also grow other vegetables, but chilly is the backbone of our economy,” village chief Z V Wungkhayap said.

There are 400 households in the village and a family harvest ranges from 100 to 300 kg of chilly per roughly every six months.

The dried variety of this unique chilly is sold at Rs 200 per kg. The village produces about 5000 kg of dried chilly annually.

He regretted that the state horticulture department failed to provide any assistance to the chilly growers in spite of assurance by state horticulture minister Gaikhangam who is also a senior Naga leader from Manipur hills.

Horticulture department officials said that the department was considering to give financial and other assistance to villagers to produce more ‘Sirarakhong chilli’.

Call it the unique soil or the climate of the village, neighbouring ones had tried to cultivate the chilli, but failed to produce the variety.

Efforts to grow it elsewhere resulted in a shorter variety and lacking the sharp tang of ‘Sirarakhong chilli’.

The inhabitants of the village recently celebrated the third ‘Sirarakhong Hathei Phanit’ (Chilli festival) organised by some civil organisations.

“We celebrated the festival to showcase the role of the chilli in village life and also to draw attention of the authorities,” vice-president of ‘Sirarakhong Shanao Long’ (women’s organisation) Jasper Sira-nao said.

Village chief Wungkhayap said the chillies in powder form, which are in great demand, were now exported to Ukhrul district headquarters and surrounding villages, but regretted it was yet to find a market in Imphal.