Jaipur: Poppy farmers in Rajasthan's Chittorgarh district are facing a unique problem.
Come March, parrots descend on their fields in large numbers to slurp on the milk oozing out of cuts made in the pods to ripen the yield.
"Once they have their fill they sit on trees and sleep there for hours. Some of them can be seen circling or staggering before falling from the trees due to overdose of opium," says Kishore Kumar Dhaker, a poppy farmer in Sukwara village of Chittorgarh. Several parrots are also found dead on the ground, some killed in their somnolent state by predatory birds. There are other birds in the area, but parrots seem particularly to be attracted to the intoxicating produce. No one seems to know why.
Farmers are annoyed with the 'winged thieves' as the avian addiction eats into their profit. Moreover, the narcotics department officials look with suspicion at their explanation of a shortfall. According to the terms of their licence, low output can result in the permit being denied in future. Poppy farming is a highly controlled activities since its product, morphine, commands very high prices in the illegal narcotics trade.
Farmers say five to seven per cent of their yield is eaten up by the parrots, despite precautions to frighten them away. "It is difficult to control these parrots. We have to spend hours in our fields to shoo them away," says Bhairulal Jat, another poppy farmer from the same village.
Some farmers use nets to cover their fields, some try to scare them away by beating on tin cans while a few carry catapults with them. "We are not able to sleep fully in the night," says Jat.
Dhaker, whose family has been in opium farming for over four decades, says the birds are addicted to opium because he has been seeing this happening for several years, in March and April, when the poppy seeds are cut to make their milk turn brown for harvesting.
Traditionally poppy farming is carried out in Chittorgarh, Baran, Jhalawar, Udaipur and Bhilwara districts of Rajasthan and usually at the start of March when the plant blooms.
As per the Central Bureau of Narcotics website, opium poppy involves lancing and collection of latex from the incised capsule or pod. It is a skilled and laborious job requiring considerable manpower to accomplish the task in a short time span. The capsule is the most important part of the plant as it provides raw opium - a milky exudate. It contains about 70 percent of the total morphine synthesised by the plant.