Traditionally meant for hot and humid areas,bananas haven’t been given much of a chance in Punjab. Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) began researching the crop in 2007 and still maintains bananas cannot be a successful commercial bet.
A Ludhiana farmer has,meanwhile,been defying the supposed odds and shown how it is done. Mewa Singh Kular of Kular village,Ludhiana,has been managing a three-acre banana farm since 2007 and harvested the fruit from plants grown in a poly net this year.
His work has intrigued Punjab Agricultural University and the state agriculture department,which has sent officials to visit his farm and inspect what they thought wasn’t possible.
Inputs from the PAU research were very discouraging when I started growing bananas in 2007, says Kular,who has since formed a Punjab Banana Growers’ Association with around 30 members. But I put in a lot of time and did various experiments to save my bananas from the biting frost of Punjab,which is the fruit’s major enemy.
Kular began by covering the crop with stabiliser sheets and finally found that the fruit harvested from poly net-covered plants not only tasted sweeter,but also ripened naturally on the trees without needing a ripening chamber.
I planted around 10 plants in a poly net in September 2012 just for the sake of an experiment, he says. They started flowering in November and had fruits in December,which is the right harvesting period.”
Among his experiments was farming baby corn alongside the bananas. This too was a success. It is still on in the open farm; poly net-protected farming has helped.
Apart from taste and easy ripening,production too was good. The crop grown under the poly net gave a yield 1.5 to 2 times higher than crops grown outside. Now the average yield from my farm is 150 quintals per acre.
Kular has created his own ripening chamber. We give the bananas a temperature of 18 to 22°C in the chamber and they ripen in 4 days.
The market rate for bananas is Rs 50 to 60 per dozen; Kular sells at Rs 25 after an announcement in the gurdwara. We send a vehicle full of bananas to the gurdwara and it returns empty, he says.
Rajinder Singh,who has an 11-acre farm in Abbuwal village,now plans to grow bananas under a poly net. I was waiting for Kular’s experiment to show results and now I too am going for it.
Among the reasons why researchers had predicted no future for the banana were its irrigation requirements,the lack of marketing opportunities and the extreme care that is needed for the sensitive crop.
The banana was introduced through the efforts of Dr G S Kalkat (now chairman of Punjab State Farmers’ Commission). But it has failed to show expected results because there is no marketing scope, says agriculture director Dr Mangal Singh Sandhu,who visited Kular’s farm along with PAU vice chancellor Dr B S Dhillon. What will farmers do with a fruit that nobody knows about and when PAU has failed to guide them? We have asked PAU to work on this aspect and guide farmers where they can sell their produce. The crop takes a lot of water and there are only one or two varieties that can sustain in Punjab,Sandhu adds.
Sources in the PAU fruit sciences department claim banana research had been halted midway because of lack of funds,staff and interest. Dr M I S Gill,head of the department,denies this. We never stopped the research and we will soon recommend some new varieties, Gill says. But our observation till now is that it is not an easy crop to grow. Unless farmers put in an extra effort on care for this sensitive crop… it will be a complete failure. It can never compete with fruits like kinnow in Punjab, he said.
Dr L S Brar,director for horticulture,too,maintains that banana is a crop meant for hot and humid regions,not Punjab. Farmers ready to put in all their efforts and modify technology can go for it but it cannot gain popularity. However it gives excellent returns if successful, Brar says.
Banana,basically a cash crop,is imported from Gujarat,Maharashtra,Andhra Pradesh and Bihar in Punjab. Punjab buys bananas worth Rs 500 crore annually while its own production is only one per cent of the total consumption.
As per PAU,the total area under banana cultivation was 170 hectares in 2012-13. G-9 (Grand Nine) is the only banana variety recommended by PAU for Punjab. Robusta and Dwarf Cavendish varieties too consume low quantities of water and are known to have been grown successfully in Punjab.