By: ML Verma
Shimla (May 29): Himachal Pradesh appears to have missed the cherry bloom this season as while unpredictable weather has affected output of the fruit, scarcity of cherry in the market too has not led to any appreciation in its price, thus further adding to the farmers’ troubles.
The cherry crop starts arriving in the markets with the tourist season picking up, but this year while there is good rush of tourists, there are not many takers for cherries. Talking to HimVani, a Kinnaur-based cherry farmer, BS Negi, lamented that this year too the crop was not as good owing to hostile weather condition in the state, but despite having lean crop and thin supply of cherries in the market, its price was not picking up.
He said the best variety of black cherry picked from organic lots was getting Rs 150 to Rs 200 per kg in the Delhi wholesale market this year, whereas it was fetching between Rs 100 to Rs 125 in the local markets here. Last year the rate was between Rs 200 to 300 per kilogram.
The main reason for decline in its production was fluctuation in weather and abrupt trend of temperature beside many spells of hailstorm and wind storms. Poor price would hit the interest of farmers as we will not be able to cover costs of labour, packaging and transportation,” said another farmer.
Agriculture experts blame immatureness on the part of farmers who were pumping their crop into markets without studying the proper market mechanism like its demand and supply. They claimed that farmers over the years have been sending their produce to those markets, which have already been flooded with cherries from other areas.
Cherry is highly perishable fruit as its shelf life is not more than five to six days unlike apple, and therefore farmers always remain in panic to dispose of the produce at whatever price available. The state government has supplied about 15,000 fresh rootstock of high yielding cherries like black and red heart cherry to farmers in the state, but these are yet to bear fruit.
State’s cherry production has now crossed 1,000 tonnes as compared 650tonnes of 2009, and 405 tonnes in 2008, but this year it is expected to fall short of the 1,000 tonne mark. Narkanda, some 65 km from Shimla, is the hub of cherry production in Himachal. Cherries are mainly grown in the higher reaches of Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Chamba, Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti districts. At least 10,000 small farmers grow cherries on 405 hectares as an alternative crop.
Despite the fact that the state offers best climate for cherry production, lack of effort from the state horticulture department and concerned authorities, who rarely encourage its plantations and also have failed to provide proper market structure, has caused stagnation.
The government was expected to create mini cold storage facility for cherry crop in the state, but no effort has been made to so. Tourism industry could further boost up the sector but still farmers have to toil to search for markets outside the state.