India Interior

Arid land yields a bounty of succulent fruits

Azera Parveen Rahman | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on March 24, 2017

Ripe for profit Jethalal M Khattar, a farmer in Bhuj, saw his income soar after he shifted to horticulture and drip irrigation in 2002. His organically farmed fruits are mainly exported azera parveen rahman

Trees are covered with plastic covers--a technique to save the trees from environmental hazards

Kutch presents an example of robust desert horticulture

Over the past decade, the total horticultural land under cultivation of fruits such as pomegranate, mango and date palm has doubled in Kutch and its fruit production has trebled.

And why is this a surprise? Because this semi-arid region in Kutch has, through 10 years of toil, transformed the landscape and set an innovative example in desert horticulture.

Adversity, they say, can bring unexpected opportunity. It stands true for Kutch, whose agriculture story saw massive changes after the devastating 2001 Bhuj earthquake.

“Kutch has large parcels of land-holdings, which makes agriculture more like a business for farmers. After the Bhuj earthquake, agriculture became the primary tool to help people rebuild their lives. Farmers in this region are progressive, and apart from the help got from the government, they scouted for techniques to improve their agriculture,” says Hanudha Gadhavi, Kutch field officer of the Gujarat Green Revolution Company (GGRC).

Drip by drip

GGRC, which came into being in 2005, is an implementing agency for micro-irrigation schemes on behalf of the State and the Centre.

Drip-irrigation is one of the main reasons for the immense boost to horticulture in Kutch. It helped allay the biggest challenge — water scarcity. In an area which has saline underground water and traditional irrigation methods lead to water wastage and uneven distribution, drip-irrigation scores on both points. Additionally, the government gave a 50 per cent subsidy on drip-irrigation.

“Drip-irrigation is godsend for us,” says Jethalal M Khattar, a prominent farmer in Bhuj, who owns more than 700 acres and grows tomato, papaya, mango, banana and date palm in his Ashapura Agriculture Farm. “Although I set up Ashapura to sell my agricultural produce about 20 years back, it was only when I started venturing into fruit production after 2002 that I received very good returns. All thanks to drip-irrigation. Now most of our produce — all organically grown — is exported. We also export pomegranate to Dubai.” His annual turnover is ₹12-14 crore.

Fruit first policy

Wherever you go in Kutch, you come across fruit-laden trees apart from the usual crop of cotton, castor, sunflower, cucumber and wheat.

Some farmers say they have replaced traditional crops, like wheat, with fruit plantations.

“I have reduced the area under wheat to make way for more mango trees. Most of my mangoes are exported through traders from Mumbai. It gives me good returns. So, obviously, mango will be a priority,” says Hardik, a local farmer.

Kutch’s mangoes have, in fact, become a big attraction in the domestic market, apart from the exports, especially to the Gulf countries. “Earlier it was just the Junagadh mango variety that was famous; now Kutch’s Kesari variety is equally popular,” Gadhavi says

The region’s pomegranates are very popular too, although they are mostly consumed by the domestic market. “Only those that weigh above 500 grams are exported,” explains Dr Falgun Modh, deputy director of the State horticulture department.

Dates, on the other hand, are mostly exported.

“Under the Indo-Israel Agriculture Project, the farmers here are already getting trained in date tissue culture. A dedicated centre for this and post-harvest care is being set up,” says Modh.

Latest on the ground

A cursory look shows that farmers here already follow advanced agricultural practices such as mulching, where seedlings of watermelon and musk melon are covered with plastic sheets to increase production.

“During 2007-17, the fruit growing area has increased from 59,000 acres to one lakh acres. Production of fruits has trebled to 10 lakh tonnes,” Modh informs.

And if the recent State Government budget proposal to increase drip-irrigation subsidy to 70 per cent goes through, the numbers would scale greater heights, the region’s farmers say.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Gujarat

Published on March 24, 2017
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