In a first, farmers in the northeastern states of Mizoram and Manipur harvest their apple crop which they have grown with the active support of scientists from the CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology.
Scientists have been encouraging farmers in Ukhrul district in Manipur and Champhai in Mizoram to grow ‘low chilling’ varieties of apples. Photos: By Arrangement
Poi village in Manipur is buzzing with apple talk these days, ever since Awungshi Shimray Augustina harvested her first crop of shiny, crunchy apples from her orchard last week.
“I planted 55 apple saplings that I got from Palampur in Himachal Pradesh in 2019. And in just two years, they have borne fruit,” Augustina told Gaon Connection.
Augustina, who was working in Delhi at a private firm, returned home in 2016 to Poi in Ukhrul district of Manipur and involved herself in agriculture.
Like Augustina, a large number of farmers in Manipur and Mizoram have taken to apple farming thanks to the big role played by Palampur-based CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology.
Scientists from this institute have been encouraging farmers in Ukhrul district in Manipur and Champhai in Mizoram to grow ‘low chilling’ varieties of apples and many farmers have set up their own apple orchards, a first in the northeastern states.
Augustina attended workshops on apple cultivation in 2019 and after that planted 55 apple saplings from Himachal Pradesh in her farm.
Speaking to Gaon Connection about this unique initiative, Rakesh Kumar, senior scientist with the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology, said: “In 2016, we had appraised the farmers in these states about the ‘low chilling’ variety of apples, and even supplied them with the saplings, right up till 2020,” he said. In Mizoram, the institute has also set up demonstration plots of apples in more than hundred places.
There were half-hearted attempts to plant apple trees in the North East in the nineties, but that did not bear any fruit. But ever since 2016, the idea has taken root and many farmers, who earlier grew only rice, pineapple and bananas, have taken to it.
According to Rakesh Kumar, the low chilling varieties of apples such as Anna, Dorset Golden, Sun Fuji, etc., do not require long and very low temperatures to grow. “Traditional varieties of apples require about a thousand to fifteen hundred hours of chilling, but the one we have introduced in the North East requires just about three hundred to five hundred hours of chilling,” explained the scientist. These varieties are best suited for the climes of Mizoram and Manipur, that are not too cold, he added.
“There are at least ten thousand apple trees in Mizoram that were planted as a pilot project along with the state’s district rural development agency” Rakesh Kumar said.
CSIR provided the technical knowhow and the saplings for the project. And its scientists were a continuous presence as the farmers planted and raised the saplings.
Imparting the training presented several challenges to the scientists, especially in Champhai, Mizoram and Ukhrul, Manipur that border Myanmar in the east. “Most of the farmers spoke no English nor Hindi and communication was a struggle,” Rakesh Kumar said. But with the help of the district horticulture department and the district rural development agency, they managed.
“We started the apple trials in 2016 and we are happy with the results,” K Zonunsanga, assistant district horticulture officer, Champhai, told Gaon Connection. “More than a hundred farmers are now cultivating apples here and soon we won’t have to import the fruit from other states,” he said.
“There is a great future for apple cultivation in the North East,” said Rakesh Kumar. People here can enjoy the apples and there is the big factor of reducing the carbon footprint of importing apples from great distances, he pointed out.
Meanwhile, Augustina continues to be an ambassador of apples at Poi, Manipur. “I am asked all the time about apple cultivation and I know there are many farmers here who are already preparing their ground to receive apple saplings,” she said.
Sanjay Kumar, the director of CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology told Gaon Connection that initially, the institute had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project (NERCORMP) in 2016.
“Under this, the farmers in the northeast had to be informed about apple farming. The initiative was first launched in Mizoram and now the farmers in Manipur are practicing apple culitvation as well. The yields have been promising,” he said.
Read the story in Hindi