A farmer carrying local Sirarakhong chillis on her way to the market

Ukhrul: The 10th edition of the Sirarakhong Hathei Phanit, an annual chilli festival, was flagged off at Sirarakhong village in Manipur’s Ukhrul district, located about 67 km from state capital Imphal, on Thursday.

The three-day-long festival started in a resounding manner under the theme ‘Celebrating God’s gift: Hathei’ at the Sirarakhong local ground.

The event was graced by the deputy commissioner of Ukhrul district, Joseph Pauline Kamson, as the chief guest in the presence of Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH) mission director N Premananda Singh; assistant publicity officer (press) DIPR T Sanjeeta, community elders, villagers and general visitors, among others.

Ukhrul DC Joseph Pauline Kamson, and DIPR assistant publicity officer (press) T Sanjeeta at the Sirarakhong Hathei Phanit as chief guest and guest of honour, respectively

Addressing the gathering, Kamson said that the typical chilli, which is locally known as hathei, is the ‘copyright’ of Sirarakhong. “Even though the chilli is found widely in other parts of the area, the specific variety of ‘hathei’ grows only in Sirarakhong. Hence, hathei remains unique and admired by many,” he said.

A village of nearly 200 households, Sirarakhong is blessed with favourable climatic conditions. But due to lack of job opportunities in the state, most families in the village continue to uphold the traditional practice, which is cultivation, and depend solely on agriculture for livelihood.

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Potato and chilli farming, according to locals, remain their main cash crops in order to run the family and to support their children’s’ education. Moreover, each family can produce around 40 to 200 kg annually and sell it for Rs 500 to Rs 600 per kg.

Hathei (chillis) being displayed at the Sirarakhong Hathei Phanit in Ukhrul district

“Each villager used to compete [with] each other [for] the highest chilli production from their farms and generate the highest revenue in a year. However, this is purely based on true spirit and not to compromise the quality of their products. The income generated from chilli farming is mostly spent on their kids’ education,” said Sirarakhong chairman V Ningkhan Zimik.

“After the festival was initiated by a women’s organisation of the village, our hathei is now getting attention from different places. With this amount of focus, we now aim to promote hathei globally,” Zimik added.

As per locals, even though there is no proper marketing shed in the village, farmers could manage to get demands from various parts of the state. In most cases, the annual hathei production in the village is unable to meet the consumers’ demands. This is attributed to more and more people shifting their focus to other food products and organic items.

Dried hathei (chillis) being displayed at Sirarakhong Hathei Phanit in Ukhrul district, Manipur

“Earlier, our forefathers only practised the chilli farming for family purposes since there was no marketing approach to promote the product then. But now, after the festival started, our chillis (hathei) are well-regarded and loved by many. Even if we can’t sell off the products during the festival, we get huge demand from Ukhrul and Imphal,” said Masophy Ramsan, one of the locals.

The event is organised by Sirarakhong Phungva & Sirarakhong Hathei Promotion Committee under the aegis of NEC through EBADA Manipur, Horticulture & Soil Conservation and Manipur Organic Mission Agency (MOMA).

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