It's sweet, pulpy, juicy and perfect wine material. The litchi may soon be seen in a new avatar as two private companies are keen to use the fruit - that grows in abundance in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district - to produce wine.
Kingfisher and Litchika International have approached Muzaffarpur-based National Litchi Research Centre to sign memorandums of understanding (MoUs) to use its technology for making litchi-flavoured wine, said KK Kumar, director of the centre.
Kumar said that scientists at the centre had developed litchi-flavoured wine by mixing pulpy extracts of the fruit with various types of spirits. They replicated the technology after conducting preliminary laboratory experiments in Thailand and Beijing.
The union agriculture ministry recently approved the litchi centre's proposal to transfer its technology of making litchi- flavoured wine.
Kumar said several food processing companies based in Maharashtra, Karnataka and New Delhi had submitted proposals for an MoU with the centre. The expert committee constituted by the agriculture ministry cleared the names of Kingfisher and Litchika International for the venture.
Last year Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) director Mangala Ram had impressed upon Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar that the state could increase its revenue by using the 'shahi litchi' variety of the fruit, largely grown in Muzaffarpur, for making wine.
Impressed by the proposal, the state government decided to set up plants in Muzaffarpur for this purpose.
Officials at the centre said wine from the fruit would help litchi farmers. "They would not be forced to sell litchis at throwaway prices and there will be less chance of damage due to poor processing and packaging facilities," one of them said.
About 70 per cent of litchis produced in India are grown in Muzaffarpur and neighbouring districts, with the number of farmers engaged in growing the fruit increasing in the last decade.
However, a World Bank report released last year had noted that litchis good enough for export were being grown in only about 10 percent of the 2,000-odd orchards in Muzaffarpur.
Countries that import litchis from India include the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Canada, Russia and Yemen.