A Date With Israel: Farmers in Jaisalmer experiment with dates
In the heart of Rajasthan’s Thar desert, a state government initiative led by the horticulture department has farmers cultivating dates. A ground report from Jaisalmer.
Kuldeep Chhangani 12 July 2023 4:26 PM GMT
The severely high temperatures and paucity of water have discouraged farmers in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan from experimenting too much with agriculture. But change is afoot.
While the pearl millet has been the crop of choice and also the staple diet of the inhabitants of the arid Thar region, since 2008, date cultivation has brought much sweetness into the lives of the farmers.
It all started in 2008 when the horticulture department of Rajasthan government decided to set up a plantation spread across 100 hectares of land in order to cultivate date palms.
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“The saplings were imported from Israel which has a similar desert-like climate. The climatic conditions of Jaisalmer, Barmer, and Bikaner have proven to be suitable for date production,The varieties that were brought here included Khalas, Khadrawi, Khuneji, Barhi, Medjool, Sagai, and Ghanami,” Mohit Kumar, agriculture officer of the Centre of Excellence for Date Palm, told Gaon Connection.
“In 2022-23, a total of 5,441 saplings of the date palms were distributed amongst the farmers in Jaisalmer. A single sapling of date palm costs Rs 1,500 but the state government is providing 75 per cent subsidy, and each sapling of date is available to the farmers at Rs 375,” Kumar said.
Iqbal Khan, a 48-year-old farmer from Jaisalmer’s Pokhran had availed the date saplings from the horticulture department’s orchard in 2016.
“I planted 1,092 date palms on seven hectares of land. I earn a total of Rs 500,000 in a year from selling dates in the wholesale market. Such an income was simply not possible from growing staple crops like millets. I grow millets but only for household usage, my earnings are mainly from date cultivation. A kilogramme of dates is sold for Rs 60 ,” Khan told Gaon Connection.
Bhagirath Joshi, a farmer from Kanodiya Rajpurohitan village in Jaisalmer district, was one of the farmers who attended a workshop conducted by the horticulture department and received a subsidy for buying saplings .
“I planted 156 saplings of date palms over almost half a hectare of land earlier this year. These will fruit after five years, and they are growing well. I have already seen farmers who have earned as much as Rs 100,000 from a plot of land of the same size. The good thing is that date fruit is produced throughout the year ,” the 36-year-old farmer, told Gaon Connection.
Apart from dates, the farmer also cultivates millets, peanuts, cotton, wheat and seasonal vegetables on his 24 hectares of land.
The dates produced in Rajasthan are supplied to states like Gujarat, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh where its demand is high.
Drip irrigation used to cultivate dates
In the water-strapped Thar region, irrigation is a major challenge.
“We advise farmers to use drip irrigation and the state government also provides a subsidy of 70 per cent to set up the drip irrigation system in the orchards,” agriculture officer Kumar said.
Solar drier installed to produce dates
Once they are harvested, the dates are hydrated before being marketed. This drying process often requires a lot of electricity usage which is often not sustainable in the region.
“To solve this problem, we have installed solar dryers to dehydrate the fruits. The dates require a temperature of almost 50 degrees celsius to be dehydrated. Although the temperatures here are hot enough to dry them under the sun, the sand and strong winds can damage the dates,” Kumar added.