June 18, 2004
When banana cultivator D K Mahajan decided to abandon conventional farming methods at his Wagoda village farm in Rawer tehsil of Jalgaon district, all he expected was increased yield and higher profits.
Imagine his surprise when he was given the prestigious Nallavahzai Award. This was in 2001. Today, Jalgaon’s farmers are emulating Mahajan and reaping rich benefits in the bargain.
With 44,847 hectares under banana in the district, Jalgaon accounts for more than half of the total cultivation in the state (72,000 hectares), which is second only to Tamil Nadu in the national ratings. If collective efforts by farmers like Mahajan have put Jalgaon on the agriculture map as the ‘Banana Bowl’ of India, Rawer is its capital.
Interestingly, after a series of orientation courses in new farming techniques for banana cultivators by the Jalgaon-based Jain Irrigation Systems, there have been numerous success stories locally. Farmers who got 24 metric tonnes of banana per hectare in 1984-85 are now producing over 60 metric tonnes in the same area. Those enterprising enough to try tissue culture banana production get over 90 metric tonnes per hectare.
Said scientist Kalyan Singh Patil, a specialist in banana tissue culture who doubles up as a consultant, ‘‘Every year the yield and area under banana cultivation in Jalgaon are increasing. Local farmers are open to new techniques such as drip irrigation and fertigation, which is responsible for a good bumper crop every year.’’
• Hectares under cultivation : 72,000 (Maharashtra)
Traditionally, the farmers here grew the Basrai, Shrimanti and Ardhapuri varieties of banana. However, these varieties do not meet the requirements of the international market; the yield, too, is low. Though the sweet Basrai is popular in the domestic market, the short shelf life is a limiting factor.
To sustain the banana industry in Jalgaon, an alternate variety, the Grand Naine, was introduced in 1995-96. The success of this variety prompted the R&D division of Jain Irrigation Systems to introduce tissue-cultured varieties such as Williams, Robusta and Zeleig. Their popularity in the international market, especially Europe, has helped local growers to take to them in a big way.
For farmer Dattaji Patil, the switch from Basrai to Robusta was not easy ‘‘as I kept wondering about the money I would lose if the experiment failed’’.
But, the yield of the first year blew away all doubts and turned Patil into a die-hard convert. ‘‘My yield and the profits have made me understand the necessity of change. I am now open to every new technique in farming,’’ said Patil.
With 13.90 million tonnes, India is the largest producer of bananas in the world, followed by Uganda (10.14 million tonnes). Amongst the fruit crops grown in the country banana ranks first in production and third in area under cultivation (13 per cent of total area under fruits).
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