How to guides… Poppy cultivation

This amazing detailed description is from a book I had been battling to get hold of for a year or more – Amer Farooqui’s “Smuggling as Subversion” 1998:

Once the ground was ready, poppy was sown at the rate of 2 to 2. 5 ser of seed per bigha. The seed was sown broadcast. Apart from the several waterings already referred to, much weeding and loosening of soil had to be attended to in the following months. Besides, when the plants were five or six inches above the ground they had to be thinned to distance of three inches.

As much if not more demanding for the peasant was the extraction of opium. Opium is the ‘inspissated juice obtained by scratching the unripe capsules’ of the poppy plant and ‘allowing the milky sap, which exudes therefirom to dry spontaneously’ This job requires considerable expertise. Lack of skill incoUectmg the jiuice (chik) from poppy capsules could ruin the crop. The peasants ofMalwa were reputed to have sufficient expertise in collecting juice from the poppy by the of the 19th century. 

So much so that when it was found in Gujarat that ‘unskilful management’ by novices ‘in extracting the juice from the pods and preparing the opium’ was leading to a considerable Ioss the ‘assistance of a few Experienced Cultivators from Malwa’ was sought.

When the capsules were half ripe between January and early March, they were punctured with a small trident formed in an instrument of three short prongs on blades at a distance of about the fourth of an inch asunder. Using this instrument three vertical incisions would be made upwards in capsules.

Weather conditions prevailing between January and mid March were a critical factor in determining the nature of the harvest . Even minor variations in weather at this stage could tell on the poppy.

For collecting the juice, the practice in Malwa was to divide a field into four parts and take up ripe plants of two portions in a single day. Since the collection of juice had to be preceded by scratching of the unripe capsules the previous evening, on any given day juice would be scraped off plants of the first part (which had been operated on the day before), while towards evening incisions would be made on plants of the second part to permit collection of their juice, the coagulated latex, the next day and so on. The poppy capsule should properly be wounded late in the evening after sunset. It has to be left overnight after scarnfication and its opaque narcotic juice is collected next morning. The poppies could be bled three to four times for collecting their juice, and thus the entire operation had to be repeated as many times‘.

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