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Explained: The rise of the ‘wild kiwi’ from Arunachal Pradesh

In October, Arunachal Pradesh became the first state in the country to obtain an organic certification for its kiwis. What led to the emergence of kiwi — a fruit that only grew in the wilderness not long back — as a major cash crop in the state?

Written by Tora Agarwala , Edited by Explained Desk | Guwahati |
Updated: December 10, 2020 12:22:27 pm
In Arunachal Pradesh,a domesticated variety of kiwi was introduced as a commercial fruit only in 2000, after farmers recognised its potential.

Twenty years ago, the kiwis that grew wild in Arunachal Pradesh’s Ziro Valley barely caught anyone’s attention. However, in the last decade, farmers slowly recognised the commercial value of the fruit. Today, the kiwis of the region are the only certified organic fruit of their kind in the country.

The certification, its advantages

The organic certification was provided by the Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North East Region (MOVCD-NER), a scheme for the northeastern states by the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare under the Central government.

“Happy to share the news that #Arunachal is first in the country to obtain #OrganicCertification for #Kiwi under Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North East Region (MOVCD-NER). Hearty congrats to farmers of Lower Subansiri district for achieving the feat” tweeted Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu in October.

An agricultural practice/product is considered organic when there are no chemical fertilisers or pesticides involved in its cultivation process. Such certifications in India can be obtained after strict scientific assessment done by the regulatory body, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).

Kiwis of Ziro Valley — located in Lower Subansiri district — were certified as organic following a standard three-year-process. Komri Murtem, District Horticulture Officer, Lower Subansiri district, said an organic certification had many advantages. “Certification helps producers and handlers, they receive premium prices for the products, and have access to fast-growing, local, regional and international markets,” he said.

Moreover, it boosts the local economy. According to Murtem, such a certificate made sense for a place like Arunachal Pradesh, because the state has “tremendous scope for cultivation” owing to its natural agro-climatic conditions. “Kiwi is one of the most important future commercial fruits,” he said.

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The rise of the Arunachal kiwi

For years, a fruit locally called ‘anteri’ would grow wild in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh. “We would eat it, feed it to our animals, but never recognised it for what it was,” said Gyati Loder, Kiwi farmer and General Secretary, Kiwi Growers’ Cooperative Society Ltd, Ziro. “Our markets were filled with kiwis from other parts of the world but we did not realise that it was the same thing growing in our backyards.”

As described in “Kiwifruit a boon for Arunachal Pradesh”, a 2014 publication edited by G Pandey and AN Tripathi, the kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa Chev.) is a “deciduous fruiting vine native to Yangtze river valley of south and central China.” It is also called “China’s miracle fruit” and “Horticulture wonder of New Zealand”. “Kiwifruit vine originated in China, but its full economic potential was exploited by the New Zealanders, which accounts for over 70 per cent of world trade,” states the publication.

In Arunachal Pradesh, a domesticated variety of kiwi was introduced as a commercial fruit only in 2000.

“Our land is fertile, has suitable agro-climatic conditions and the Ziro Valley specifically is located at 1,500-2,000 metres above sea level — this is most ideal for kiwi,” said Loder, adding that marketing began in the mid-2000s. “It was slow initially but a few big companies showed interest and that helped us reach a wider market.” Over the years, as the Arunachal kiwi gained popularity, every big dispatch of the fruit was ceremonially flagged off and the farmers formed a cooperative, Kiwi Growers’ Cooperative Society Ltd, Ziro. Today, it represents over 150 farmers from the Ziro Valley. It is this group that has succeeded in earning the organic certification for their kiwi orchards.

“Finally in 2020, we got an organic certification after our hard work,” said Loder, “This is very good for us and the future of kiwi cultivation. However, till now there has been no value addition or increase in prices. We are still in discussions with the government on how this can be done.”

While kiwi production has increased over the years, there are challenges ahead.

The road ahead, challenges

According to Okit Palling, Chief Executive Officer, Arunachal Pradesh Agriculture Marketing Board, the state accounts for 50 per cent of the country’s kiwi production. “We produce about 8,000 metric tonnes of kiwifruit per annum. We also produce apples, turmeric, oranges etc but we wanted one signature crop to brand ourselves. Like Meghalaya is known for lakadong turmeric, Manipur is known for black rice, Arunachal Pradesh should be known for kiwi,” he said. Earlier this month, a Kiwi Research Institute in Lower Subansiri district was established to promote research on the fruit.

While kiwi production has increased over the years, there are challenges ahead. For one, the very topography which is conducive to kiwi growth acts as a deterrent sometimes. “The [mountainous] terrain is the most challenging,” said Palling. Kiwis grow as vines, so require a number of supporting planting materials, such as fencing, iron posts etc. “It is hard to transport all this material in that topography — or even bring harvested fruit down from the hills,” said Palling. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

According to Tage Rita, agricultural engineer from Ziro Valley and kiwi wine brewer, almost 90 per cent of kiwifruits in the market are imported. “In Arunachal Pradesh, people are yet to commercially venture into kiwi farming to the fullest. Only four per cent of the cultivable land for kiwi has been used till now,” she said, “It can change the entire economy of the farming community of Arunachal Pradesh if cultivation of kiwifruits are taken in the right direction with technical inputs, modern practice, organic methods etc.”

Palling said that the fruit is still new for the national market. “Kiwi is often confused with sapota (chikoo),” he said, “Many don’t know the potential of the crop but slowly that is changing and demand is growing.”

While Ziro Valley accounts for major chunk of production, the fruit is also found in West Kameng district, Lower Dibang Valley district, Si-Yomi district, Kamle district, Papum Pare district and Pakke Kessang district. Loder added that while the Lower Subansiri district farmers have united to form a cooperative, farmers of other districts have not. “If we all do, it will give production a boost,” he said.

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