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Himachal farmers crack puzzle of Japani phal

After apples, could persimmon spell the big bucks for Himachal Pradesh? That’s the great orange hope of Nauni-based horticultural scien...

Written by ARVIND KASHYAP | Solan |
May 27, 2005

After apples, could persimmon spell the big bucks for Himachal Pradesh? That’s the great orange hope of Nauni-based horticultural scientists, who have established after prolonged trials that the fruit could be as lucrative for the sub-tropical zones of the hill state as the upper reaches are for apples.

Commonly known as the Japani phal—the persimmon is native to China an Japan—the fruit was introduced to the Kullu valley in the early 1920s and then, subsequently, to Jammu and Kashmir, Coonoor and the Nilgiri Hills. Though it took very well to the soil and climate in these places, the fruit never made much headway in the popularity stakes among farmers.

Of late, though, the demands of an increasingly sophisticated market are convincing horticulturists to think anew, and offering an alternative to low-grade mangoes in lower Himachal. Currently, Solan, Sirmour, Kullu, Bilaspur, Mandi, Hamirpur, Kangra and Una together account for 1,200 hectares of persimmon orchards, or 800 tonnes of fruit annually.

‘‘The popularity of non-astringent varieties and knowledge of the persimmon’s nutritional value are essential for commercial cultivation,’’ says A S Rehalia of the department of pomology at the Dr Y S Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni.

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‘‘We need to further educate horticulturists in lower Himachal about this high-value fruit—it certainly has the potential to improve their economic condition.’’

While persimmon equals apples in fruiting (five years) and yield (one to two quintals per tree), the Japani phal sells for Rs 40-60/kg in the retail markets, while a kg of Himachali apples fetch between Rs 10 and Rs 35, depending on the quality.

Moreover, persimmon does not require any chemical sprays, it can grow on virtually all kinds of subtropical soil and can withstand droughts and frosts alike.

‘‘Being a hardy tree, it’s quite resistant to natural calamities,’’ says Dr Jag Mohan Singh, vice-chancellor of Parmar University. ‘‘Plus, the fruit flowers in early May and matures between the last week of August and the third week of October. This is the time when no fresh temperate-zone fruits, except apples, are available in the market.’’

With all these advantages flowering in its favour, scientists—and horticulturists—are hoping the flavour catches on.

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