Strawberry Brings Sweet Tidings to Bundelkhand Farmers

Strawberry farming is bringing profits to farmers in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh. A number of farmers in the drought-prone Bundelkhand region have switched from their traditional crops of wheat and oilseeds to strawberries. They have the potential to earn Rs 600,000 an acre from the fruit.

Shivani GuptaShivani Gupta   17 Feb 2023 7:06 AM GMT

  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Linkedin
  • koo
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Linkedin
  • koo
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Linkedin
  • koo
Strawberry Brings Sweet Tidings to Bundelkhand Farmers

Farmers in Bundelkhand, a region fraught with problems as chronic drought, are giving a chance to strawberry cultivation for additional income. All photos by Gaon Connection.

Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh

Farming in Bundelkhand is fraught with problems as chronic drought, delayed monsoons and depleting groundwater, which hamper agricultural productivity. Oilseeds, vegetables, and wheat are traditionally cultivated here.

However, strawberries are proving to be the saviour to the farmers in Jhansi district in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. A number of farmers have switched from their traditional crops to strawberries. And this has been the outcome of a pilot project in collaboration with district administration.

The project, which began in November 2021, had 25 farmers in Babina and Moth blocks of Jhansi district participating in it. These farmers cultivated strawberries in 12.5 acres of land, with each farmer growing the produce in 0.5 acre. And ever since then, there has been no looking back with farmers cultivating fresh strawberries even in the peak heat of April in drought-prone Bundelkhand region.

“The soil here is not very fertile and water resources are also a problem in Bundelkhand. We found strawberry farming to have a high potential to boost farmer income,” said Shailesh Kumar, Chief Development Officer, Jhansi.

The strawberry project had technical support from ICAR-Central Agroforestry Research Institute (CAFRI), drip irrigation support from the horticulture department, and a grant of five million rupees from National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

Also Read: Strawberries sweeten the labourer-landowner bond in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki

It was a leap of faith for many of the farmers who doubted if anything would grow well in the area. “Passersby are surprised to find strawberries growing in this infertile and arid area,” said Deepti Rai, a farmer from Babina block.

She admitted that initially they were sceptical about growing strawberries there. “But we worked hard, and got bountiful produce,” smiled the 45-year-old. “Even though we began sowing a little late, we have managed to earn two hundred and fifty rupees per kilo for our strawberries,” she added.

The strawberry project had technical support from ICAR-Central Agroforestry Research Institute (CAFRI), drip irrigation support from the horticulture department, and financial grant NABARD.

Rai, who traditionally grew wheat on her 4.5 acres of land, set aside half an acre to cultivate strawberries and plans to increase the area of cultivation next winter.

Strawberry is a winter crop cultivated between September and February when temperatures remain below 36 degrees Celsius (C) but these farmers in Jhansi have been able to bear fruits and profits till as late as in the scorching heat of April when temperatures rose to 45 degrees C.

Farmers in Jhansi were provided free saplings, drip irrigation and mulching facilities from the horticulture department, and received technical support from ICAR-CAFRI.

Also Read: The Strawberry Farmers of Odisha

Profitability of strawberries

As per 2011 population census, Bundelkhand is home to around 18.3 million people, of which nearly 80 per cent reside in rural areas. Agriculture is the fundamental occupation and forms the basis of the rural economy of Bundelkhand that covers a geographical area of around 70,000 square kilometres across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

It includes 13 districts including Jhansi, Lalitpur, Jalaun, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Banda and Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh; and Datia, Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Panna, Sagar, and Damoh in Madhya Pradesh.

But, now there is hope that the strawberry project will alleviate the misery of the farmers.

According to Bhupesh Pal, district development manager, Jhansi, the maths proves that strawberry farming is far more profitable than anything else the farmers have ever grown in the region. “While wheat earns them up to Rs 60,000 an acre, they have the potential to earn Rs 600,000 an acre from strawberries. This makes strawberry cultivation 10 times profitable,” he pointed out.

The strawberry cultivation project is being looked at with optimism to provide more income to farmers.

“Climate change is real. Heatwaves have increased food and nutrition insecurity, we have to think outside the conventional farming box of wheat and paddy cultivation to increase farmer income,” Pal said.

Also Read: The Strawberry Farmers of Darjeeling Stranded with a Sour Harvest

There is optimism at the outcome of the strawberry cultivation project. According to Ashok Yadav, scientist, fruit science, ICAR-CAFRI, “Generally, strawberry crops last till the end of February, but we have been successful in growing it till end April, despite the rising temperature in the region.”

Two varieties of strawberries – Camarosa and Winter Dow, have both done well, with good flavour, he said. “People are preferring this variety over what is available in the market, even though these are a little more sour. We want to study varieties that are sweet in taste,” he added.

So far, over 10,000 kilos of strawberries have been produced per acre in Jhansi. These strawberries were sold in local markets, krishi melas (agriculture festivals), and state programmes. The officials and farmers expect better sales in the region as people get more aware about the health benefits of the Vitamin C-loaded strawberries.

Savings of water and monetary profit

Bundelkhand being a hot and semi-humid region is supposed to receive 52 normal rainy days but in recent years that has been restricted to 24 days a year, noted a 2016 research paper titled Agro-climatic Region Centered Research and Development Planning.

The paper also states that a little over 60 per cent of the area is cultivated, but compared to other parts of Uttar Pradesh, the sub-zone has less developed irrigation facilities. Only about 25 per cent of the cultivated area is irrigated as against a state average of nearly 60 per cent. Soil erosion is high and land productivity is low.

It was a challenge to grow strawberries in the soil of Bundelkhand. The berries usually grow in hilly regions or where rainfall is more or where soil holds moisture content. Bundelkhand fulfilled none of the above criteria.

In the absence of cold storage units in Jhansi, farmers will have to either sell the strawberries as soon as possible or process them into strawberry products.

“But we were successful in growing strawberries here, and it has proved to be a raambaan (profitable) for Bundelkhand farmers," said A Arunachalam, director, ICAR-CAFRI, based in Jhansi. That is why we wish to get a GI tag for the Bundeli strawberries, so that the farmers too will benefit, he added.

Drip irrigation facility support from the government has helped farmers in the region save water for crops. Mulching helps save water from evaporation. Other plants, especially vegetables, were planted close to them to protect them from harsh sunlight.

“Earlier, I would require gallons of water for wheat and vegetables and yet would not get good produce. With drip irrigation, I require less water and my farm is hara bhara (green) even in this heat," Shantilal Kevat, a farmer from Babina said. “Now I have enough water till June and July, and then monsoons will come,” he added. Same time last year, Kevat said, his farmland was dry, scorched and bare after the wheat harvest. But, today it was lush green with the growing strawberries.

A traditional wheat and vegetable farmer, Kevat is determined to continue with strawberry cultivation. “I will forget about everything else, if I continue to get such good results from strawberries," smiled the 62-year-old.

From 25 farmers to 500 farmers

Despite being rich in minerals, the people of Bundelkhand are very poor and the region is underdeveloped and underrepresented in state and central politics. Lack of employment and lack of opportunities have led to unmitigating poverty and migration.

“The strawberry crops have the potential to boost farmer income. This would also have a long term impact in reducing migration in the region. Farmers can earn better and there would be no need for them to leave home,” hoped Shailesh Kumar Kumar, chief development project officer of Jhansi.

“We started with twenty five farmers last year, we will try to increase that number to five hundred farmers who will cultivate strawberries this year," he added.

Bhupesh Pal, NABARD official from Jhansi, claimed that migration is already showing signs of coming down in the two blocks of Babina and Moth where farmers are cultivating strawberries. “We are hoping for even better results in the long run,” he said.

“Farmers would only cultivate two crops, rabi and kharif, as they were dependent on rains. In this project, with drip irrigation farmers are cultivating three crops. This will keep them from migrating,” Pal said.

Challenges to be addressed

There are challenges however in strawberry cultivation, admitted Arunachalam, director of ICAR-CAFRI. "There are no cold storage units in Jhansi. Farmers will have to either sell the strawberries as soon as possible or process them into squashes, juice, jam, powder, etc. If we set up such units locally then a sustainable chain can be formed," he said.

Arunachalam also said incentivising the farmers would go a long way in making strawberry cultivation sustainable. “Perhaps, the subsidy for drip irrigation can be increased, and inputs like saplings can be given for free to farmers," he suggested.

Strawberry cultivation was a leap of faith for many of the farmers who doubted if anything would grow well in the area.

The short shelf life of strawberries that can last for not more than three days without a cold storage is a challenge too.

“There is no processing centre nor tissue culture labs here where saplings could be grown. These are necessary as buying saplings locally would be easier. We also need to set up cool chambers or vans to transport the berries to distant markets of Lucknow, Delhi, Kanpur,” scientist Ashok Yadav said.

“Villagers are selling strawberries through vegetable vendors locally. We are tying up with big companies who make processed foods. We are also trying to set up processing plants since it is a perishable commodity,” said chief development officer Shailesh Kumar, who hopes to scale up the strawberry cultivation in the district and benefit as many farmers as possible.

#bundelkhand Strawberry Agriculture 

Next Story

More Stories

© 2019 All rights reserved.