In less than three years,more than 9,500 polyhouses have replaced terraces on nearly 100 hectares of cultivable land on the slopes of Himachal Pradesh.
The innovative and lucrative method of farming inside polyhouses to grow vegetables has turned out to be ideal in harsh winters when little cultivation is possible in the hill state,particularly for farmers with small landholdings.
The transformation is most visible in the lower- and mid-hills of Bilaspur,Kangra,Mandi,Hamirpur Sirmaur and Solan,which remained largely barren during winters,and where farmers,including educated youths,have embraced the new precision farming technique.
The initiative started under the state governments Rs 353 crore subsidy scheme called Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Kisan-Bhagwan Samridhi Yojana is paying off well in a state that has so far been popular only for its apples and flowers. In just two years,some of the high-yielding and exotic cash crops like red and yellow capsicum,cauliflower and cucumber grown in the polyhouses have brought returns to the tune of Rs 25 crore per annum.
The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) has sanctioned the loan for the scheme under which 16,000 polyhouses is to be set up by next year.
Dev Dutt Chauhan,27,a trained Ayurveda (pharma) degree-holder,who quit his job with Dabur company,has set up a 1,000 square metre polyhouse at Bhall Balwan (Khandoror) village in Bilaspur last year.
Chauhan sold red and yellow capsicum in Delhi markets during the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and earned Rs 1.50 lakh. This year,too,the crop yield has been very good. I have fetched rich returns by supplying the produce to Delhi and The Oberoi Cecil in Shimla. My produce is completely organic and I also used the Internet to tie up for marketing, he says.
In the past two years,Bilaspur,for instance,has built more than 900 polyhouse projects. Farmers in this district could hardly grow cash crops or off-season vegetables because of high temperatures and lack of irrigation facilities. But that was before it was introduced to polyhouses.
Director,Agriculture,J C Rana sad: In Bilaspur,a lot of farmers have used bamboo to build polyhouses under the states subsidy scheme. The farmers are sanctioned 90 per cent subsidy in case of bamboo structures (low-cost),and 80 per cent if they use steel frames.
Farmers here have taken to growing leafy vegetables like spinach,coriander,turmeric and also cauliflower,beans,tomato and capsicum. Red and yellow capsicum much in demand in bigger cities and leading hotel chains that are grown in polyhouses in Bilaspur district sells at the rate of Rs 150 to Rs 180 per kg as compared to green capsicum sold upto Rs 60 to Rs 80 per kg.
The NABARD scheme also has a component for micro-irrigation facility as most of these polyhouses have come up in rainfed belts. The farmers are also being provided financial aid for creation of water resources like shallow wells,pumps and water-drawing systems for the polyhouses.
A word of caution
The agriculture department has written to NABARD to undertake an impact study in order to evaluate the performance of polyhouses after a similar subsidy scheme under the centrally funded National Horticulture Mission (NHM) left some of the beneficiaries debt-ridden. Farmers had,last month,also approached the High Court,blaming the government for their ventures turning unsuccessful as no scientific study was done on climatic conditions in lower hills (where temperature shoots up) before launching schemes under the NHM.
The officials,however,distinguishes the NABARD scheme,implemented by the agriculture department since 2008,from that of NMH meant for the horticulture sector. Because of the huge subsidy component under the scheme,chances of misuse are not ruled here too, says Dev Dutt Chauhan,another farmer in Bilaspur.
In fact,an earlier study done by the Agriculture University,Palampur on NABARD funded scheme last year had found that the farmers were not fully trained in handling precision farming operations in polyhouses.
The new greenhouse
A polyhouse is a framed structure in which vegetables can be grown under sufficiently controlled environmental conditions. Polyhouses are based on the greenhouse concept to let in heat and light while preventing the heat from getting out. But instead of glass,polyhouses are made of polythene or plastic. By reducing evaporation,they also allow farmers to use sprinkler and drip irrigation systems,thus saving water.