Sohliya strawberries to shed California tag- Seeds germinated in hi-tech nursery in the village to cost 50% less & ensure timely delivery
Guwahati, Sept. 6: The luscious strawberries grown in the picturesque Sohliya village of Meghalaya’s Ri Bhoi district are ready to abandon their California “tag”.
A hi-tech nursery in the village, with support from the ministry of panchayati raj, will henceforth germinate strawberry seeds locally.
“The farmers were facing problems in buying seedlings at very high cost and that, too, with uncertain delivery and timing. The panchayati raj ministry was approached for providing support for a hi-tech nursery for germinating strawberry seedlings and it accepted,” said head of the Regional Resource Centre at Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship Sriparna Baruah, who is looking after the project.
California produces the best quality strawberry seedlings in the world and all the countries are dependent on them.
But in an effort to shed the dependency, altogether 5,000 mother plants have been planted. Each mother plant will produce 20 seedlings on an average. These will be sold to the farmers at Rs 7 to Rs 8, which is about 50 per cent cheaper than the imported ones.
“The best thing is that the seedlings will be available during the proper season for plantation,” Baruah said.
“At the present rate of growth, this nursery will be able to meet the seedling demand generated in the area in future” she said.
Sohliya village, 24km from Nongpoh and 26km from Shillong, is a hub of strawberry production in Meghalaya. With climate conducive to their growth, this area has seven hectares of land under strawberry cultivation with around 300 farmers engaged in this activity.
In 2009, the total production of strawberries in the area was only 125 tonnes, almost half the average production of the area which is around 250 to 300 tonnes per season. The seedlings, which are required to be planted by September, are procured from California at Rs 17 each. These mature and bear fruit by November.
Most of the time, the seedlings arrive late in the season. Last year, of the planned 4.5 lakh seedlings, only 3.2 lakh arrived, and that too, in November. On planting, this resulted in fruiting in January when rain and hailstorms destroyed a huge proportion of the produce.
The strawberries, that are graded according to their size, are categorised into A, B and C segments, where A is the biggest and C the smallest size. The farm price of each is Rs 120, Rs 110 and Rs 90 per kg respectively.
The market price of grade A ranges between Rs 300 and Rs 320 per kg and that of grade B Rs 240 and Rs 260 per kg.
The Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship had identified the area as a potential location for the rural business hub project of the panchayati raj ministry. Under this initiative and through the public-private-partnership mode, a memorandum of understanding was signed between IIE, the village council, the state horticulture department, Seuji Agroprocessing and Services Pvt Ltd (a business house) and the Ri Bhoi Strawberry Growers Association early this year.
“Under this initiative, Seuji joined as the market partner with 100 per cent buyback assurance and also agreed to provide packaging material to the farmers,” Baruah said.
Following this intervention, the production volume is set to surpass 400 tonnes and the fruits would get more time to be marketed properly, she added. Farm prices are likely to drop by around 20 per cent, thereby lowering the market price by another 15 to 20 per cent. This would translate into a price reduction of Rs 50 to Rs 60 per kg.
“Farmers are now being encouraged to produce strawberry wine, jam and jelly as additional income generating options,” Baruah said.
Hemanta Rabha of the Meghalaya office of Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship said there would be no difference in the quality after the going away of the Californian seedlings. “The hi-tech nursery will take care of the quality and will be very good,” he said.
The plantations in this village have been going on for 15-odd years now.