Shimla, March 19
Seeing burgeoning demand and high profitability, the cultivation of exotic fruits and vegetables is set to be expanded at a fast pace this year in Himachal Pradesh, the apple bowl Himalayan state where farming communities are some of the most vulnerable to the changing climate.
In a first-of-its-kind attempt, the government will introduce new exotic fruit crops like dragon fruit, blueberry and avocado by using techniques of high density plantation and micro-irrigation system, said Chief Minister Sukhvinder Sukhu in his budget speech for 2023-24.
Saying the government is bringing a new horticulture policy with an aim to increase income of horticulturists, he said the government will develop 6,000 hectares for horticulture in 28 development blocks of Bilaspur, Hamirpur, Kangra, Mandi, Sirmaur, Solan and Una districts under HPSHIVA Project in the next five years with an outlay of Rs 1,292 crore.
This will be done in two phases. The project will benefit more than 15,000 horticulturist families.
Under the project, the production of orange, guava, pomegranate, litchi, plum, pecan nut, persimmon, mango, and other fruits will be promoted under the 'One Crop One Cluster' approach. The target is to plant one crore saplings under the project.
Post-harvest, losses will be reduced by developing value chain infrastructure, Sukhu, who also holds Finance portfolio, said.
Apples constitute 49 per cent of the total area under fruit crops and 81 per cent of the state's fruit economy comes to Rs 3,583 crore.
Besides apples, mango, orange, pear, plum, peach and apricot are the major horticulture crops in the state.
Over the years, Himachal Pradesh, ranked second in apple and almond production, has made significant progress in the development of horticulture with a growth of 17.60 per cent from 2007 to 2022.
The topographical variations and altitudinal differences coupled with fertile, deep and well-drained soils favour the cultivation of temperate to subtropical fruits. Farm experts say the state is also suitable for cultivation of ancillary horticultural produce like flowers, mushroom, honey and hops.
Officials told IANS the aim to introduce exotic fruits is largely owing to the fluctuations in the production of apples in the past.
The overall fruit output in 2021-22 was 7.54 lakh tonnes, while the total fruit production in 2022-23 (up to December 20) was 7.93 lakh tonnes, as per Economic Survey of 2022-23.
It was planned to put 1,556 hectares of new space under fruit plants in 2022-23, but only 1549.27 hectares were brought under plantations, and 4.40 lakh fruit plants of various types were distributed.
As per the budget for 2023-24, the government proposes to set up fruit grading and packing houses, controlled atmosphere and cold stores in association with Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) in Bhavanagar (Kinnaur), Sandasu (Chirgaon), Anu (Jubbal), Chopal (Shimla), Jabli (Solan), Sundernagar (Mandi), Duttnagar (Rampur Bushehar) and Kharapathar (Shimla).
Sixty FPOs will be established to improve the economic condition of horticulture farmers.
One of the largest producers of off-season vegetables, Himachal Pradesh, where agriculture crops, comprising vegetables, annually value Rs 16,076 crore, produced 18.04 lakh tonnes of vegetables in 2021-22 against 18.67 lakh tonnes in 2020-21. The production of vegetables will be about 17.59 lakh tonnes in 2022-23.
The Economic Survey blames the high inflation in vegetables in 2022 was mainly due to a spike in prices of tomatoes owing to crop damage and supply disruption due to the unseasonal heavy rains in the major producing districts of the state.
Farmers are switching over to cash crops in place of traditional crops as a result of promotional programmes and schemes launched by the government, an official spokesperson told IANS.
Also the returns of off-season vegetable cultivation are very high compared to traditional food crops.
As per government estimates, off-season vegetables give a net return from Rs 60,000 to Rs 2 lakh per hectare whereas the traditional crops fetch from Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 per hectare.
Owing to four agro-climatic zones and nine varieties of soil, the state has already earned name in the production of off-season vegetables like tomato, capsicum, green peas, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, potato and cucumber.
Mid-June to September are the months when there is no supply of vegetables other than Himachal Pradesh to the markets in neighbouring Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and New Delhi. The vegetables supplied from the state fetch good prices during off-season.
To promote natural farming, the government has introduced the Prakritik Kheti Khushal Kisan Yojana under zero budget natural farming to reduce cultivation costs and the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.
Till date, 171,063 farmers have opted natural farming, spanning an area of 9,464 hectares.
Natural farming covered 54,237 farmers in 2021-22. An additional 20,000 hectares will be covered in 2022-23, as per the Economic Survey.
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