Monday, December 8, 2014

Reviving Orange Farms

Who doesn’t like oranges, right? The Suntala has forever been part of our lives here in Sikkim, going a little beyond being merely a fruit one eats. The Suntala arrives with the bright sunny days of early winter which is also when the schools are closing for the winter vacation. So, children, their mothers, uncles, aunts and everybody else can be seen sitting out on their front yards or rooftops chatting along while their hands are busy peeling the fruit. Childhood memories are replete with such images and times spent pinching orange peels to squirt the juice at each other and teasing each other with the line, “khuching tala mai tala, das paisa ko suntala”… And then there is relishing oranges cut down the centre and garnished with some salt and chilli powder.

The suntala, even though it is no longer ‘das paisa ko’, remains a favourite and is still devoured by people of all ages. Its popularity notwithstanding, over the years, production of oranges has been adversely affected by a number of reasons. With a view to arrest such problems and improve orange production in Sikkim, the State government has started an orange rejuvenation programme. Sikkim has roughly 6,000 hectares under orange plantation, producing an average of 1,667 kg/hectare. Rapid area expansion has been initiated with a set target to double the area under orange cultivation. Orange farmers are being provided with financial assistance, planting materials, tools and equipments along with training and exposure visits.
In the training programmes organised by the Horticulture and Cash Crops department, farmers are trained on rejuvenating senile and unproductive orchards, Bordeaux trunk painting, agro spray oil to control various pests, methods of basin making, manure and mulching, control of fungal diseases and trimming of dry branches. To rejuvenate the old and sick trees farmers are taught the technique of ‘Inarching’ [grafting by connecting a growing branch without separating it from the parent stock]. Training is also imparted on the importance of field sanitation by collection and dumping the infested fallen fruits in organically treated plastic drums for effective management of Fruit Drops in Citrus. Some local youth of the respective areas are also trained as master trainers and engaged to carry out the entire work of the rejuvenation programme.
The Horticulture department has also identified areas best suited for area expansion under the mission for rejuvenation of orange cultivation and production. Some of the areas selected in South Sikkim for rejuvenation have been doing well inform officials of the Horticulture Department, South district. The rejuvenation programme has worked well in Turuk village in the district where orange farmers like one CP Subba of Dhargaon has especially been reaping the benefits of increased production, it is informed.
Marketing is another aspect where the department and the state government are working to improve conditions. With SIMFED (Sikkim State Cooperative and Marketing Federation) and NERAMAC (North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation Limited) partnering in procuring and marketing of oranges from Sikkim, there has been encouraging response for orange producers. While efforts are also on to market the state’s produce in national as well as international markets.
There are also initiatives at the state level like that by Lum Orange Growers Association (LOGA) with the support of Krishi Vigyan Kendra [KVK] Mangan of supplying packaged oranges of Lum, North Sikkim for markets within and outside the state. Under the initiative, which was launched in January this year, cartons containing 30 large sized oranges for Rs 150 per carton were supplied within and outside the state. Apart from local initiatives like these, participation at national and international expos also help in garnering interest and attracting buyers.
There is huge potential for Sikkim oranges that is waiting to be tapped. Processing oranges in the form of juices, jams, marmalades, can result in greater returns but is yet to gain a proper foothold in the state. Infrastructural improvements, encouraging private players in the field and setting up proper marketing linkages can further bolster the supply and demand for Sikkim’s oranges. We have already lost the famed ‘Cocksi’ apples of North Sikkim and cannot afford another such loss. Steps towards reviving the state’s orange orchards have begun, however, it is imperative to see it through for failure could mean losing not just the suntala but also so much that it is associated with here in Sikkim.
[An edited version of this article was first published in the Political & Economic Journal of Sikkim in the year 2013]

No comments:

Post a Comment

Readers are invited to comment on, criticise, run down, even appreciate if they like something in this blog. Comments carrying abusive/ indecorous language and personal attacks, except when against the people working on this blog, will be deleted. It will be exciting for all to enjoy some earnest debates on this blog...