With the impact of climate changes already visible on the booming horticulture sector of Himachal Pradesh,especially its pre-dominant apple crop,it has become important to get innovative. The movement has started gaining momentum,not only for adaptation to the climatic conditions,but also for new challenges thrown up by the entry of foreign chains into Indian markets.
Excellence in horticulture through an integrated development of the sector is a new buzzword among the farmers. There is a paradigm shift,inducing cultivation of low volume and high value crops. In Himachal Pradesh,hence,adoption of advanced technologies and cultivation of internationally competitive disease-free varieties are on the cards.
As one of the significant changes in the apple cultivation is gradual shifting of the orchards to higher elevations,including the Lahaul-Spiti belt,the answer to this is diversification of crops new fruit varieties,such as plum,kiwi,cherry,apricot,peach,pomegranate and strawberry,in the upper hills and citrus fruits and mangoes in the lower hills. Medicinal plants,cash crops and floriculture have also become equally popular alternatives.
In the last five to seven years,26,118 hectares of additional land have been brought under horticulture production,of which 1,873 hectares are under floriculture,besides 666 hectares under medicinal and aromatic plants .The total area under horticulture has gone up to 2.11 lakh hectares,with more than half of this under apples alone a Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000-crore industry.
We have a multi-pronged strategy in place which includes integrated management of the orchards,where we address the issues of cultivation of new high-density quality fruit plantations,drip irrigation,orchard health,organic farm interventions and finally putting in place a good marketing infrastructure, says Horticulture Minister Narinder Bragta.
Impressed by Himachal Pradeshs success,the Union Ministry of Agriculture has selected the state for this years award for excellence in adoption of integrated approach in horticulture.
Bragta says the state has invested more than Rs 160 crore in different activities,of which a substantial amount was utilised under the National Horticulture Mission.
The state governments innovative apple rejuvenation project to replace old apple varieties with new high-yield plants also found convergence, he adds.
Himachal Pradesh,as a futuristic measure,has decided to shift to American apple varieties. For this,more than 25,000 high-quality apple root stock has already been imported. Another consignment of 46,000 elite saplings have reached from the US,which the horticulture department proposes to send to the newly set-up progeny-cum-demonstration orchards multi-crop nurseries for multiplication of the plants and thereafter its distribution among the farmers. Some of these saplings will also be given to the Y S Parmar Horticulture University,Nauni,for propagation at its research centres.
Horticulture department officials say the American varieties would bring a revolution in the sector. The farmers have already been trained in cultivation of the new varieties and management of the orchards. Himachal Pradesh has also incorporated the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme by allowing the job-card holders to undertake fruit plantations in their own orchards,which means the job card holding farmers can claim wages for working in their own orchards.
Mechanisation of the orchards,rainwater harvesting by constructing water tanks,drip irrigation ,vermin-composting and use of quality fungicides are some of the other innovations being popularised,says V C Pharka,Principal Secretary (Horticulture),who received the Excellence Award in Delhi last month.