The Kiwi Farmers of Bageshwar, Uttarakhand
Farmers from eight villages in the Shama cluster are associated with a growth centre that processes and sells kiwi products. The fruit is locally grown by the hill farmers. In 2021, nearly 20 quintals of kiwi were pulped for juice. The sale of these products has increased the income of farmers.
Megha Prakash 2 Feb 2023 7:26 AM GMT
Shama village in Bageshwar is driving a major change in the hills of Uttarakhand and bringing prosperity to local farmers. A growth centre set up in the village is providing livelihood opportunities to the villagers, many of whom have taken to cultivating the exotic kiwi fruit. There is also a processing unit to make kiwi-based jams, jellies, pickles and squash or juice.
Currently, there are 520 farmers from eight villages – Shama, Badi Paniyali, Liti, Hampti-Kapdi, Ramadi, Bhanar, Naukudi, and Malkadhungracha – in the Shama cluster associated with the growth centre. “The tourists stop by to buy our products,” said Pramod Singh Koranga, sales manager at the growth centre.
According to him, in 2021, nearly 20 quintals (one quintal equals 100 kilograms) of kiwi were pulped for juice. A kilo of kiwi yields two litres of kiwi juice, he explained. The sale of these products has increased the income of the local farmers.
This centre has more than 1,200 members and a turnover of more than Rs 50 lakh mainly from the sale of millets, spices and pulses under the brand name Himdhara. It has also taken BDA assistance and Rural Mart grant support from National Bank For Agriculture And Rural Development (NABARD).
The growth centre was set up in Shama in 2008 by Gramya, a society promoted by the Department of Rural Development, Government of Uttarakhand to undertake implementation of livelihood projects, in association with NABARD.
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Early experiments with Kiwi
Farmer Bhawan Singh Koranga is one of the earliest farmers in Uttarakhand to cultivate kiwi. The 73-year-old retired school principal is from Shama Danda village, Kapot block, in Bageshwar district. He started growing kiwi in 2007, even before Gramya came into the picture.
Bhawan Singh obtained the first few kiwi saplings as an experiment, from the regional research station of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) in Bhowali. In the first year, he planted 50 plants. A year later, 100 more plants were added. Today, the orchard has around 400 kiwi trees, with a mix of four varieties – Havard, Alison, Bruno, and Monty.
Bhawan Singh’s sole successful attempt at producing kiwi, resulted in the fruit being included in the ‘one district, one product’ programme of the Uttarakhand government.
He was the first to commercially venture into kiwi cultivation in the district, and in less than 10 years, his kiwi farming began to earn him a healthy profit.
When Bhawan Singh began kiwi cultivation in Uttarakhand, it was already a big thing in the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh. Farmers there were being given training in the fruits cultivation at Dr Yashwant Singh Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry in Nauni.
Meanwhile, back in Uttarakhand, the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources in Bhowali, the regional research station of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, kiwi was first tested and then introduced in the region.
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Kiwi cultivation gathers momentum
Kiwi cultivation is gathering momentum in Bageshwar as it is not a water-intensive crop and can grow well in areas in low lying valleys up to 1,200 metres above mean sea level. It is also a hardy crop that is pest-resistant, and usually avoided by monkeys that normally damage other crops.
Each kiwi tree produces anywhere between 40 and 100 kilograms of fruit, which can be processed into juice, jam, jellies, pickles and candy.
Each kiwi plant matures in 4-5 years and bears 40-100 kilograms of fruit on an average. A kilo of A grade kiwis fetch about Rs 200; B grade fetches Rs 150 a kg and C grade Rs 60 a kg. The most popular Kiwi amongst Indian consumers is Alison, with Harvard being popular in the international market. The pricing of kiwi is based on fruit size, production, and demand. The price fluctuates and competes with the international market. The price of kiwi is based on grading and fruit size.
According to the Central Institute of Horticulture, India produces around 13,000 metric tonnes of kiwi fruit in an area of 4,000 hectares in states like Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland (data of 2019-20). It is also picking pace in Uttarakhand.
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Farmers such as Bhawan Singh believe that promoting kiwi cultivation will supplement the income of farmers, increase employment opportunities, and help arrest migration from the state.
Many farmers are joining the kiwi brigade in Uttarakhand. For instance, 40-year-old Kamla Devi, a farm labourer in Bhawan Singh’s orchard, decided to grow some kiwis herself. She planted 20-22 kiwi saplings in 2016-17 and has been getting the produce.
Similarly, Radha Devi also planted 20-25 trees, the same year. While last year, the 40-year-old grew enough produce for her own use, this year, she has plans to sell the fruit and earn some extra income.
Training farmers for kiwi cultivation
Gramya provided training to interested kiwi farmers at the growth centre in Shama village. It enabled the farmers financially, and enabled them further by providing them with T-bars (support stands for the kiwi creeper) at subsidised rates. T Bars cost Rs 2,000 each, but Gramya made them available to the farmers at Rs 500 each and saplings at Rs 6 each.
According to Bhawan Singh, to grow kiwi in a hectare of land, the average expenditure is Rs 15 lakh. Besides the T-bars, there is also the expenditure of procuring anti-hail nets to protect the fruits from getting damaged during hail storms. Anti-hail nets cost Rs 35-40 per square metre, he explained.
Kiwi farming is also labour-intensive as labourers have to cross pollinate the plant manually by rubbing the male and female flowers together.
At Bhawan Singh’s farm, 24 women and 7 men work. The women are paid Rs 350 per day and men Rs 400. These daily-wage labourers are responsible for manually cross pollinating each flower. “The male flower is rubbed over the female flower. And this process is done everyday until new flowers stop blooming,” the farmer explained. The fruit is ready for harvest in late August-September. Until then pruning, pollination, weeding, manuring is the major task undertaken at the farm.
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Gramya, which was set up in 2008, has helped kiwi farmers to take their produce to sell at the Bareilly mandi in Uttar Pradesh. But the farmers preferred direct sale to consumers.
Giving the reason, Bhawan Singh explained that “In the mandi the kiwi is sold by weight (in kgs). The farmers earn more when they sell by piece directly,” he said. According to him if the mandi rate is Rs 115/kg, the farmer makes about Rs 150 a kg when he sells it directly.
Labourers are also required to lift the boxes of kiwi from orchards and carry them to the nearest motorable road.
“To ferry 100 kilos of kiwi, to the nearest bus stop, a porter charges Rs 200. From there, the cost of ferrying 100 kgs to Haldwani, it costs Rs 800 by jeep," Koranga explained.
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In order to make saplings easily available, Bhawan Singh has also set up a nursery in eight polyhouses. In 2021-22, he prepared 8,000 kiwi saplings, and hopes to up the number to 10,000 saplings by 2023. Each sapling is sold at Rs 225 (saplings developed through cuttings), and Rs 275 (by grafting method). The cost of saplings has been increased by Rs 37.5 (for cutting) and Rs 75 (for grafted) to match the price of saplings in Himachal Pradesh.
Meanwhile, a 2018 study, Site suitability analysis for kiwi fruit plantation in Uttarakhand using GIS, has found kiwi fruit can be grown on the larger area of Uttarakhand state, most of the area of Uttarakhand state is highly suitable for growing the kiwi except District Udham singh nagar, Haridwar, and some part of Dehradun while district Chamoli, some part of Tehri Garhwal and some part of Nainital are suitable for growing Kiwi.
The researchers said that that height ranges from 400-1100 m is unsuitable, 1100-1800 m is highly suitable, however 1800-2500 m is suitable for the plantation of kiwi fruit (see map).
This story has been done as part of a partnership with NABARD.