Agri Business

Fruits of lockdown: Youth in drought-prone Koregaon join strawberry cultivation

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on July 29, 2020 Published on July 29, 2020

Having returned from the cities, they are digging up wells to help irrigate the crop

In the last four months, hundreds of wells have dotted the maps of nondescript villages in the drought-prone Koregaon tehsil of Satara district. The village youth, most of whom were working as head-loaders in Mumbai, returned to their native places and are creating irrigation facilities to start strawberry cultivation. Just a few kilometres away from Mahabaleshwar, known for strawberries and scenic sights, Koregaon has emerged as another strawberry hub in the last few years. Now with reverse migration, strawberry cultivation in Koregaon is likely to multiply.

Farmers in the region use farm ponds — harvested rainwater in artificial ponds — to continue farming in the summer. But the returned migrant youth have started digging wells to find a permanent solution to water scarcity. Strawberry, a shallow-rooted plant, requires less amount of water but needs to be hydrated frequently.

“Koregaon, along with the Maan and Khatav tehsils, is a drought-prone area. The majority of youth in these villages have migrated to cities especially Mumbai to work as Mathadi workers (head-loaders). The new generation had shunned farming. But the Covid-19 outbreak in Mumbai has brought them back to villages. In the last few years, farmers in Koregaon have toiled to cultivate strawberry using available irrigation facilities and now the new generation has joined them. You can see hundreds of wells being dug,” says Swapnil Shinde from Asangaon village.

Sweet Charlie, Inter Down, Kamaroza and Shelva are main four popular varieties cultivated in the district and village farmers are selling strawberry saplings to farmers in other States including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar say Shinde.

Change in attitude

Village seniors say that not all youth were interested in farming, and hence were reluctant to put in money and effort in cultivation. But Covid-19 has changed the scenario.

Satara-based water conservation activist Avinash Pol said that youth have to engage in cultivation as there are very few options to earn livelihood in villages. “Water conservation and farming go together in Satara. Farming could be made profitable with skills to enhance production and marketing,” said Pol.

Tourists and ice-cream producers are the main buyers of strawberries in Satara, which has seen a rise in processing industries in the last few years. Strawberry cultivation was restricted to a few big farmers a few years ago, but today small farmers have joined the league.

“Covid-19 has heralded a change in approach and attitude of youth towards farming. Not surprisingly the area under horticulture this year has gone up in a big way. Youth are back in fields and many would continue to be there even after Covid-19 pandemic recedes,” says Mohan Patil, a youth from Satara.

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Published on July 29, 2020
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