Bhut Jolokia or King Chilli or Raja Mircha, whatever foodies might like to call it, one byte of this excruciatingly hot chilli will turn their face to its original colour, that is red. And they will feel the fire. And this fire makes it one of the most desired spices in the world.
Rise in Demand For the Spice
Bhut Jolokia is one of the most desired ingredients of Assamese cuisine. It will not be an exaggeration to say that it is one of the most valued spices used in North Eastern cuisine. A Bhut Jolokia plant can be found in almost every household of Assam and Nagaland. It is known as Naga Mircha in Nagaland. However, Bhut Jolokia was never produced commercially in the State before 2005.
In 2007, Bhut Jolokia was recognised as the hottest chilli in the world by the Guinness World Records. Soon the demand for Bhut Jolokia shot up in the international market. The commercial production of Bhut Jolokia started in Assam after the demand rose in markets outside the State. But it has both pros and cons for commercial production. The cross breeding done for large scale plantations impacted the quality of the chilli. Hence it lost some amount of its hotness. In 2011, Bhut Jolokia lost its hottest chilli title. But for hundreds of farmers, the cash crop has proved to be profitable farming.
Innovation Is The Key To Marketing
Since 2005, Leena Saikia, a farmer from Jorhat district of Assam, has been farming Bhut Jolokia. After quitting her job, Leena Saikia not only makes profit by commercial cultivation of Bhut Jolokia but is also able to provide jobs to dozens of people through her company Frontal Agritech. Her Bhut Jolokia products like Bhut Jolokia Pickle, hottest sauce, chilli powders are available in all the leading ecommerce platforms and has a customer base worldwide. The Union Government has identified Jorhat district for Bhut Jolokia commercial farming under One District One Corp (ODOC) scheme.
Leena Saikia is known across Assam to be the first farmer-cum-entrepreneur to cultivate it professionally. She founded Frontal Agritech Private Limited in Jorhat along with her husband. Production began in 2004, at a time when there was no market for the crop. In fact, the company was the first to introduce Bhut Jolokia to the international market. Now, the company exports its produce to 22 countries. Saikia was selected by the Spices Board as the top exporter of spices from the North East for 2015-16 and 2016-17. In India, the Spices Board gives certification for the goodness of spices. Its export price depends on this certificate. With the increase in demand, Bhut Jolokia’s production began in different parts of India as well as in countries like Mexico. But the quality differs with the change of climate.
Now, the current export price of Bhut Jolokia (in dry form) is an average of Rs 2,200 per kg. Frontal Agritech exports 20 to 25 tonnes per annum of oven-dried or smoke-dried Bhut Jolokia. Its biggest buyer is the United States.
While almost 90 per cent of the current production is being used for edible purposes, Saikia says it is also used in products such as pepper sprays and tear gases.
The Bhut Jolokia has a crop cycle of six months, in which it bears fruits for about three months. Nabadeep Gogoi, a grower in Golaghat district of Assam, informs that 1,500 to 1,600 seedlings can be planted per bigha (around 0.13 hectare) of land. “One plant yields an average four kg in every crop cycle. The average wholesale price of the Bhut Jolokia is Rs 200 and a farmer can earn upto Rs 4 lakh per bigha, out of which the farmer gets a profit margin of 20 per cent,” says Gogoi, who estimates a profit of Rs 80,000 to Rs 90,000 per bigha.
Sanjiv Chetia, another farmer in Tinsukia district of Assam, earns around Rs 8 to 10 lakhs from Bhut Jolokia cultivation. His nursery produces at least 1 lakh Bhut Jolokia plants which are later supplied to farmers across the State. He buys back the products and then sells them in different markets in the region.
Shedding light on his modus operandi, Sanjiv says, “The yielding period starts from late April. We sell 10 to 15 quintals of Bhut Jolokia every month. We also supply in bulk quantity to the factories. The average wholesale price is at least Rs 200 per kg. We are adding more farmers every year in our group to increase production.”
High Dividends In the International Market
This year, Bhaben Saloi, a farmer from Dhemaji district in Assam, earned a hefty amount of Rs 18 lakhs for selling Bhut Jolokia. This 32-years-old cultivated Bhut Jolokia in 10 bighas of land. He started farming in a small piece of land in 2017. Gradually, he increased his farm and started selling Bhut Jolokia in Dimapur market. In 2020, Saloi sold Bhut Jolokia worth Rs 7 lakhs. But due to the pandemic the sale decreased to 4 lakhs in 2021. But this year, the young farmer expects to sell his entire product for Rs 18 lakhs in the wholesale market. Inspired by Bhaben Saloi, now 36 young Assamese farmers are cultivating Bhut Jolokia in Dhemaji district. This season they are planting Bhut Jolokia in 88 bighas of land. Saloi says, "We have brought a dryer machine. We are now in talks with a company in Bhutan. We have signed a formal MoU with the Bhutanese company. They will buy dried and fresh Bhut Jolokia from us. We are expecting to export chilies worth Rs 1 crore."
According to Debojit Changmai, another member of the group, the current price of dried Bhut Jolokia ranges from Rs 1,800 to 2,300, depending on its availability. Production cost of the dried chillies ranges from Rs 1,000 to 1,400. Exporters can expect a profit upto 60 per cent on dried products.
Summing up, Changmai said, “We are confident that by end of the next financial year, when we will fulfil our delivery to Bhutan, each member of our group will earn at least Rs 1.50 lakh by selling their products in the international market.”