Bestarwell Shadap Nongkynrih is a second generation farmer who grows organic pineapples on his two-acre farm in the Ri Bhoi district of Meghalaya. He was orphaned when he was about 6 months old and considers himself lucky to have had family support till he grew up to fend for himself and his sister as a farmer. His life is now, the organic pineapple farm that he tends.
Here is Bestarwell holding a freshly harvested organic pineapple from his farm in Shangbangla. Taking care of a two-acre tract of land in the hilly terrains of Meghalaya, that too tending to pineapple plants, which need lots of weeding and care is not easy! Yet, Bestarwell seems to be doing really well.
How does he take care of his farm? What are his challenges? Is he happy with the returns he gets?
Let us find out.
Team Zizira visited his farm in Shangbangla in mid July 2015 and bring you this first hand report.
The pineapple plants in all the farms in our village are organic. Our parents and grandparents practiced organic farming – they got rid of all forms of fertilizers and pesticides and we have been continuing the same Bestarwell
The varieties of organic pineapple that grow in Shangbangla
We only grow Bilat Pineapple. Earlier there were farmers growing Khasi pineapple. The leaves and fruits of Khasi pineapple are red in color and they are very sweet and tasty compared to other pineapples. However the Khasi pineapples are no longer available in our village, said Besterwall.
Intriguing – what then happened to the Khasi pineapples?
We approached a knowledgeable person who clarified:
Two varieties of Pineapples are grown in Meghalaya – Giant Kew /Kew and Queen. Kew is very popular for processing and canning because the eyes are shallow, has less fibers and is sweet. In Queen, the leaves are serrated, fruits are spiny and are used for table purposes.
Then which varieties are Bilat and Khasi that Bestarwall was referring to?
It looks like these may be names used very locally, in that region and hence not known outside. From the Besterwall’s description it looks like Khasi maybe the Kew variety and Bilat the Queen.
What does the Pineapple calendar look like?
According to Bestarwell:
- January and February: the land is cleaned, cleared, the foliage cut. The foliage is left for a week and then burnt in order to make the land fertile
- By April some of the plants begin to flower. From this stage to getting a fully grown pineapple it takes 2.5 years! Fruits that were there in the plants for a while start to grow in April and May and start ripening.
- In June the ready fruits are harvested and brought to the market.
How about the shelf life of these organic pineapples?
If the stem and leaves of the fruit are kept intact, then the fruit can be kept up to 10 days or more.
What are the challenges the farmer faced?
The trimming and cleaning that is done every year is very difficult. And because pineapple has good amount of sugar content, at times, strong sun scorches the fruit and we have to cut and throw them away.
Where does he sell them and how much does he sell the organic pineapples for?
He sells locally and to people who come from Assam to buy directly from his farm. In the most recent sale he got Rs. 350 for 20 pineapples.
How many can you harvest each year?
25,000 pineapples each year.
Bestarwell does not hire labour unless it is really necessary. For example: he hires labour for cutting and clearing; while the rest of the work he does them himself!
If you have tasted the pineapple from Meghalaya you will be craving for more. Zizira is looking at plans to market pineapple based products – for example, dried pineapple which makes a great healthy and tasty snack. They will look like ‘chips’ and will be crunchy and sweet – just the natural sugar of the fruit. The kind of snack a mother will encourage her children to have rather than the sugar filled candies that ruin kids teeth!