Organic farming attracts Himachal fruit growers

With chemical-free produce selling for as high as 100/kg, fruit growers in Himachal Pradesh are increasingly switching to natural farming.

The fruit growers say the switch to natural farming has also brought down their input costs, thereby increasing the profit margin. Theog-based Shakuntala Sharma says, “A trader who saw the ‘natural product’ label on my produce at the local market at Dhamandri instantly bought all my fruits for 100 per kilogramme, which is much higher than what was being offered to other growers who had used pesticides on their fruit. Now, buyers turn up at my door. Not only do I sell my fruit for a high price, I also save 50,000- 60,000 that was ordinarily spent on pesticides.”

Sharma is among the farmers using the Subash Palekar Natural Farming (SPNF) technique, under which cow’s dung, herbs, and local resources are used to increase fertility and keep away pests.

Ravinder Chauhan, who grows apples on eight bighas of land, says apples grown through the natural farming technique had fetched him a whooping 4,200-4,500 per box this year. “The up and downs in the market do not affect me as much as buyers pay me a fixed rate in advance,” he said.

The chemical free, low cost and climate resilient SPNF technique is being promoted for agriculture and horticulture crops in Himachal Pradesh through the Prakritik Kheti Khushal Kisan Yojna (PK3Y), launched in 2018.

So far, 1,33,056 farmers, including over 12,000 apple farmers, have been practising natural farming in the hill-state over approximately 7,609 hectares of land.

Surender Mehta, a fruit grower from Lalpani Dochi village in the Chopal subdivision said traders from Jaipur and Delhi had lifted the product from his orchard and also paid him 10-15% higher than in the local market. His pears sold for 150 per kilogramme.

PK3Y executive director Dr Rajeshwar Singh Chandel said the state project implementing unit (SPIU) was looking for farmers with innovative marketing models. “This will help us to converge these successful farmer-market linkages with our programme,” he said.

As per a government study, the natural farming technique has reduced the cost of apple cultivation by about 56.5%, while the profits are up by 27%. The apple crop grown by natural farming has also fewer occurrences of diseases like scab and marssonina blotch.

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