Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh recently launched a program that aims to improve conditions and sustainability of apple orchards in Shimla, Kullu and Kinnaur districts of the state.
The corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability project by Container Corporation of India Ltd (Concor) was unveiled by Singh in New Delhi.
It aims to undertake strategies for improving the productivity and quality of apple orchards by water harvesting, mechanization and agriculture education, with major emphasis on training and capacity building of farmers and will be implemented through TERI under the stewardship of Nobel laureate Dr R K Pachauri.
He said that the project will benefit about 1,500 apple growing households directly while around 1,000 households will be benefitted indirectly.
He said that the Apple is the mainstay of around 1.70 lakh farm families in Himachal Pradesh. Out of 12 districts, apple is commercially being cultivated in 6 districts of the state.
The state has achieved distinction in cultivation of apple and grows about 38 percent of the nation's apple crop. During the last fifty five years, the state has witnessed a transformation in horticultural development.
There has been a phenomenal increase in the area and production of apple in Himachal Pradesh due to which the state has deservingly earned a place of pride as 'The Apple State of India', Singh said.
The area under apple cultivation in Himachal Pradesh has increased from 3,025 hectare in 1960-61 to 1.04 lakh hectare in 2011-12 which constitutes more than 48 percent of the total area under fruits in the state.
He said that the Apple dominates the fruit production in the State and contributes about 81 percent of the total fruit production of the state and the he production of apple has increased from 12,000 MT in 1960-61 to a record production of 8.92 Lac MT in 2010-11.
The apple industry of the state is making a significant contribution of Rs 3,600 crore annually to the state economy and has transformed the economic status of farmers.
Singh said that although the area and production of apple have registered manifold increase, yet the production fluctuates year to year and productivity remains low as compared to the advanced countries.
The productivity of apple ranges from 6 to 11.5 MT per hectare in Himachal Pradesh in comparison to 35 to 40 tonnes in advanced countries.
Low apple productivity is due to innate constraints such as rough weather, undulating topography, small and scattered land holdings and extrinsic factors like rainfed farming, weather sensitive varieties, inadequate pollinizer ratio, low mechanization and conventional orchard management technologies, Singh said.
The productivity of existing apple plantations has not reached the desired level despite efforts to streamline the input supply, infrastructure, efficiency in the extension service and subsidy support on production protection inputs.
He said that major factor is that apple plantations in the State established before 1970 have lived their economic life and have shown decreased productivity. The state is already facing brunt of imported Apple from China, Newzealand and other countries.
To produce quality apple that meets the international standards is another challenge for survival of the apple industry of the state, he added.
Singh said that state government is making strenuous efforts to meet the global challenge and make the apple industry sustainable and competitive in the international trade regime. To enhance productivity and improve quality 'Apple Rejuvenation Project' is being implemented that envisages replacement of old and uneconomic apple plantations with improved, high yielding, regular bearing and globally popular apple varieties in 5,000 ha. area.
He said that in order to improve the production, productivity and quality, production of quality plant material is being encouraged through promoting hi-tech nurseries and tissue culture units.
Besides this, improved varieties and root stocks of apple are being imported from advanced countries which are being multiplied at the departmental orchards for further distribution to orchardists of the State. During year 2012, 10300 plants of apple have been imported from France, he added.
Singh said that private entrepreneurs are being encouraged for establishment of procurement and pre-cooling units to facilitate the orchardists in fetching remunerative price of their produce at farm gate.
He said that Controlled Atmospheric storages and CA storage capacity to the tune of 20000MT has been created in major apple producing areas of the state.
The infrastructure available with HPMC in terms of grading-packing houses and controlled atmosphere stores are being modernized. To reduce losses during transportation caused due to overfilling of apple fruit in prevalent telescopic cartons, the use of Standard Universal carton is being emphasized so that apple growers are also protected from financial loss at the hands of middlemen in the market he added.
He said that in order to bring the horticultural production on the global standards, the sttate government is providing technical know-how and inputs to the orchardists on subsidy through
training, extension and advisory service.
´´Every year around 55000 farmers are trained through training camps and exposure visits and 350 to 400 MT pesticides are being supplied on subsidy to control pests and diseases, the Chief Minister said.
He said that the project by Concor will further complement the efforts of the state government in capacity building of orchardists and improving the orchard management technology through improved irrigation and mechanization and will eventually give a boost for revitalizing the apple economy of the state.
He said that this project will not only benefit the project area but eventually throughout the state.
He thanked The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) New Delhi and Concor in taking the initiative for implementing this project in the larger interest of apple farmers of Himachal Pradesh.