Ukhrul woman scripts success story cultivating 'low-chill apples'
Source: Chronicle News Service / R Lester Makang

Ukhrul, June 25 2021: Last week, eye-catching pictures showing piles of freshly-picked apples were widely shared on social media in the midst of the current Covid-19 induced lockdown.

As many identified them as that of locally-grown apples from the district's Poi, TM Kasom, Shokvao and Hungpung villages, the delicious fruit soon became a popular topic of discussion among the Tangkhul netizens across the country.

The sight of a bountiful harvest of locally-grown apples in Ukhrul is something unheard of before.

This is believed to be the first time in its history that the district has witnessed such a high yield of the fruit.

In the past, different local farmers tried their hands on apple cultivation but their attempts had come a cropper.

Discouraged by this, many local farmers had given up on apple farming, assuming that the district's climate, though favourable for many other cold-weather fruits like plum and cherry, is not felicitous for apples.

An innovative idea took shape after some young, enterprising individuals from the district attended a workshop on apple cultivation in Himachal Pradesh back in 2019.Back home, they soon planted saplings of apple in their own orchards by adopting the new method.

Today, two years down the line, the firsttime fruit growers are scripting the success story of the new method in apple cultivation in the district.

Augustina A Shimray, a young woman from Poi village in Ukhrul's northern region, is one of those first-time growers who have proven apple cultivation not just as a real possibility but also as a commercially-viable means of living for the local villagers.

"I got my first harvest this year, which came two years after I planted the saplings back in April, 2019 .

Today, I have 43 fruit-bearing trees out of 52 trees in my orchard," Augustina said in an elated tone.

"The apple plants I have in my orchard are low-chilling varieties of grafted version," she told The People's Chronicle over the phone from her native village, located about 65 km from Ukhrul township.

According to Augustina, she got the grafted saplings free of charges from Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Himachal Pradesh where she attended a workshop on apple plantation back in 2019."I planted 55 saplings but three saplings couldn't survive," she said.

"I learnt the idea and method of using grafted saplings of low chilling apple varieties from the workshop.

Today, I'm happy to see the success of this method in our district.

This method of growing apple is offering a promising prospect for our local fruit growers," Augustina said.

Attributing her success to the innovative initiative of Palampur-based Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology, and support from North Eastern Council (NEC), she said: "It's not just me, there are some other growers who have successfully taken up apple cultivation in Hungpung, TM Kasom and Shokvao villages.

We all attended the workshop in the same year" .

Augustina said that she is now in a position where she could help the local farmers achieve their goals in apple farming.

"I'm willing to impart them the techniques of growing low-chilling varieties which are successful in our land and climatic conditions," said Au-gustina who left her job at a private firm in Delhi and came back to her native place to take up farming in 2016.She said that seeing the success of her apple cultivation, some local farmers have already started preparing pits for planting the saplings.

"Many of them have asked me to bring saplings for them and I'm making a list to procure the saplings from CSIR, Himachal Pradesh".

Responding to a query, she said that her fruit products are purely organic.

"I haven't used any chemical fertilisers for the plants.

I use only animal and natural manures for them," she said.

She continued that each of the apple trees in her orchard have now borne fruits ranging from 12 to over 100 apples this year.

"Around 100 kg of apples have been gathered so far and some 70 kg of the fruit are awaiting harvest this season," Augustina said, adding harvest season comes in the June-July period.

Nevertheless, the ongoing lockdown over Covid-19 has upset the apple cart of her business plan.

"I could not sell out much of the harvest because there were certain inconveniences in sending them to the market owing to the current lockdown," she lamented.

She said that she could sell only some portion of the first harvest at Rs 200 a kilogram and larger part of the harvest has been given as freebies to relatives and friends.

"This is my first harvest and I have no problem with letting my family and friends to have a taste," she said.

Meanwhile, Augustina revealed that she has a plan for expansion of her apple cultivation.

"I want to do it but not in a position yet, because it will involve monetary investment" .

At present, she is engaging her siblings to assist her in looking after her orchard which is located within a walkable distance from her house.

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