The efforts of Kerala Agricultural University to cultivate onions in the rain-shadow region of Kanthaloor –famous for cool season fruits and vegetables – have started yielding results. Kanthalloor, nestled in the Western Ghats, is in Devikulam taluk of Kerala’s Idukki district.
Some 82-90 days after sowing, over 95 per cent of plants showed good bulb formation. The average bulb weight was 60-100 grams with an average yield of 22 tonnes a hectare. Kanthaloor is a hub for tropical, sub-tropical and temperate crops such as hill garlic, hairloom beans and even commercial strawberry.
Considering the demand of farmers and other extension officers from the region, KAU initiated research three years ago for assessing the potential of cultivating onions on a commercial scale in Kanthalloor hills. But the challenge was to identify the ideal cropping season and production practices to raise the crop economically at a high altitude of 1,000-1,500m above MSL(mean sea level).
12 varieties evaluated
After three years of jointly working with farmers, researchers pinpointed the February-July period as the ideal season for onion cultivation in Kanthaloor dry hills. Farmers from four locations— Keezhanthoor, Vettukad, Kanthaloor and upper Perumala—participated in the evaluation trials of 12 varieties.
The crop was initially grown by supplying seedlings raised in plains to acquaint farmers about the growth of the plant, its management, bulbing and primary post-harvest handling. After two years of constant support, farmers began to raise the seeds on their own in the open field during mid- February, transplant seedlings in mid-April and harvest them by middle of July.
The harvest festival at Kanthalloor and Keezhanthoor was inaugurated by Grama Panchayath president PT Mohandas.
According to farmers, the crop is easy to manage and requires only four or five irrigations as they are receiving intermittent rains. The big bulbs of white onion were a special attraction and were also produced good yield. Kanthalloor farmers are now actively considering big onions as an additional option in their basket of choices.