The dry, hot climate of Rajasthan makes it ideal for chilli cultivation. Located 35 km from Jodhpur, Mathania produces one of the finest varieties of red chillies (lal mirch) in India, known for its sharp pungent heat; it brings distinct flavour, colour and taste to food and is used in preparation of famous Rajasthani dishes like Laal Maas (red meat) and Ker Sangri.
Large stretch of chilli cultivation can be seen in and around Mathania, a village 25 km from Jodhpur. The first fruits start to develop in December and continue growing till late February. During rest of the year, other crops are grown in the same fields.
Chilli is basically a fruit (genus Capsicum). The chilli pod contains seeds, and it originates from the flowering part of the plant. When the fruit is fresh, it is green in colour.
The green chili fruit is allowed to ripen on the plant, changing colour to a deep red. Each plant produces about 100 chillies in a season. Once all the chilies have ripened, they are collected.
Women are primarily engaged in the picking, sorting and drying processes. These women are mostly hired labourers from surrounding villages; they collect the chillies in a pouch made with their saree/dupatta.
The temperature and soil condition give chillies their distinct pungent taste and flavour. Farmers state that colder winters produce better quality chilies, and that production is sensitive to climate change.
Although pesticide and fertilizer usage have increased, yield has reduced over time. Organic chilies fetch a premium price, so many farmers have adopted organic farming but they too are facing a similar fate.
Mathania's chilli production has decreased because of dropping groundwater levels. In a state like Rajasthan which has limited rainfall, farmers have developed an extensive zero-waste irrigation system. Even then, yield per hectare is less than what it used to be 2–3 decades earlier, when irrigation was comparatively difficult.
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