The pristine state of Meghalaya has varied agro-climatic zones that range from temperate to tropical climates. This gives Meghalaya tremendous scope to cultivate tropical fruits and vegetables. The hilly terrain and land conditions of Meghalaya do not offer much scope for vast areas under agricultural crops, but it can be a gold mine for high-value horticultural crops.
In this article, we will be highlighting the strawberry cultivation of Meghalaya, which in itself is a horticultural revolution for the state.
but it was only with the intervention of the Technology Mission in Horticulture in the form of a Center of Excellence for Strawberries at the Departmental Farm of Dewlieh, Umsning, and more that really saw the cultivation of this fruit rise from that of hobby farming to the level of commercialization that is visible today, catapulting Meghalaya into the ranks of one the largest producer of strawberries in the country and the largest in entire North East. (source)
A trial project was conducted in Sohliya village, a vibrant yet modest village located in the green hills of Ri-Bhoi district, Meghalaya.
In less than a decade, the locals of the village transformed the village into the “strawberry garden village”, a well-developed horticultural led strawberry hub!
This revolution of strawberry cultivation has brought major transformation in the socio-economic development of the farmers. The success of the project also attracted other districts to cultivate strawberry. Mawpran village, in East Khasi Hills district, maybe the next strawberry hub.
What exactly is strawberry fruit?
Strawberries are popular soft fruits, which are loved by most folks all over the world. Strawberries are fruits that can be cultivated in plains. as well in the hilly terrains at an elevation of 3000m. It can be cultivated both in humid and dry regions, widely grown under protected and open condition in temperate as well as tropical climate. Among the different types of berries found in the world, cultivating strawberry may offer quickest returns in the shortest period.
History of Strawberries
Strawberry is found in different parts of the world and this heart-shaped fruit of love had been mentioned by the Roman Poets Virgil and Ovid in the first century and in England, gardeners had cultivated strawberries since the sixteenth century (Boriss et.al 2006). (source)
Over the last few decades, consumption of strawberries has increased as fresh fruits. It is rich in proteins; minerals such as calcium, phosphorous and potassium, as also vitamin A, B1, B2, and C. It is also regarded as a good natural source of antioxidants. Strawberries can be used for multiple purposes for making wine, jam, jelly ice cream and soft drinks etc.
In India, cultivation of strawberry is confined to the Hilly Tracts of Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, parts of Uttar Pradesh and Kashmir valley. However, its cultivation has spread to tropical and subtropical zones, where other states like Meghalaya, Sikkim and Mizoram have taken up the cultivation of this fruit. So far, Maharashtra is the leading state in the production of strawberry. (source)
When it comes to strawberry cultivation, Meghalaya has ventured into high value and low volume concept. This successful introduction has prominently changed the economic scene of the strawberry farmers in Ri-Bhoi district.
When we talk about agricultural cultivation, we often refer to the cultivation of a single crop in a plot of land. But, when horticultural crops are cultivated in a small plot of land, we can use the method of mixed cropping. Variety of crops, ranging from fruits and vegetables, can be grown together.
The horticultural landscape of Meghalaya is being transformed. The state government of Meghalaya is aware of the fact that horticultural crops have an advantage over traditional crops. They know that it will help generate rural income and employment. There is also high potential to tap international and national markets.
The state government has a vision of transforming Meghalaya into a fruits and flowers state of the country by setting “Horti- hubs” in different districts of the state so as to harness horticultural crops and take them to a larger scale. Hence, making them more viable and productive. (source)
The Success Stories of Farmers in Sohliya village
Let us read more on how the horticultural revolution of strawberry cultivation has brought about drastic change in income, employment opportunities and holistic development in the socio-economic condition of the people.
Sohliya village located in Ribhoi district which is about 30km from Shillong is selected as a hub of strawberry cultivation in Meghalaya, endowed with climatic conditions conducive for their growth. The success of Sohliya village as a strawberry hub in the state has provided a momentum to other districts to cultivate the crop, with East Khasi Hills leading the way by initiating 2 hectares clustered cultivation of the crop in Mawpran village which is about 58 km from Shillong.
In the year 2004, the Technology Mission on Horticulture – North east (TMH-NE), North Eastern Council (NEC) and the State Government Centre of Excellence for Strawberries supported strawberry plantation in the village. Their main objective was to grow a C2C Agri-business initiative at a village near Dewlieh. The purpose of the initiative was to set up a successful commercial model that would drive revenue for the people. With these small beginnings, now Meghalaya has emerged as one of the largest producers of strawberries in the country. (source)
Here is a success story of one of the strawberry farmers of Sohliya village. Nearly a decade ago, the village headman O. Lyngkhoi of Sohliya village brought a few strawberry plants and grew them on a very small scale. Back then, small patches of strawberry cultivation brought a little extra income for the villagers.
He has expanded his own strawberry cultivation farm, from a few plants to more than an acre of perfectly contoured strawberry cultivation. He used bamboo drip irrigation method. He also experimented with new forms of mulching techniques and brought the farmers together as an association that carries out post-harvest grading and marketing.
Now we can say that the “Ri-Bhoi Strawberry Growers Association (RBSGA) is a market player and an exporter of delicious strawberries. Leading in the frontline, however, is the Sohliya village, with 66 households growing strawberries. The village is an example of how strawberry plantation can bring together a community to work as a team for a better economic benefit for all. They know the value of the cultivation of low volume high-value crops. Sohliya village is a success story. The village is thriving. The farmers are able to provide their kids with higher education
Some of the farmers here have built their own houses, some cleared off their debts and look forward to a bright future, some have also opened their very own tea stall-cum-grocery shop in the village. These stories are also repeated in many villages across the district. Villages such as Umktieh, Umran, Bhoirymbong, Umsaitsning, Khliehumtrew, Raitong, the list goes on.
These successes have sparked off similar adoption of the crop in districts like East Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills, West Khasi Hills and the Garo Hills with farmers in these districts jumping onto the strawberry bandwagon with East Khasi Hills leading the way by initiating a two-hectare clustered cultivation of the crop in Mawpran village which has brought the village together in a spirit of solidarity. (source)
Meghalaya is now the “land of strawberries” and is the third largest producer of the fruit in the country. There are many more horticultural achievements Meghalaya can look forward to and the Sohliya village has shown the way.
Do you know of more success stories of farmers that you would like to share with us? If you do, please share with us, we would love to hear from you!