Himachal emerging as hub of off-season vegetables

Shimla, Nov 17 (IANS) Thanks to its congenial agro-climatic conditions, Himachal Pradesh, traditionally known for its luscious apples and cherries, is now making a mark with off-season vegetables, with the annual yield touching about a million tonnes and earning the farmers about Rs.2,500 crore, a senior official said.

Himachal Pradesh has emerged as the leading producer of off-season vegetables like peas, cabbage, cauliflower, tomato, capsicum and patato among India's hill states, Director (Agriculture) J.C. Rana said.

He said a million tonnes of off-season vegetables were grown in about 68,000 hectares in 2012-13 by some 400,000 farmers.

"By 2020, we intend to grow vegetables over 100,000 hectares in the state, of which off-season vegetables will be grown in about 80,000 hectares," Rana told IANS.

He said farmers in the state were increasingly turning to off-season vegetables as these crops provide better returns. They arrive at markets in the plains when the crop dries up there.

"The off-season vegetable crop comes to the market when there is no crop in the plains. The tomato crop, for instance, reaches from the state to markets in the plains from July and the harvest continues till October. The state produces 350,000 tonnes of tomatoes in the off-season," Rana said.

The tomato crop in the plains lasts till only before the onset of the monsoon.

Apart from off-season vegetables, European vegetables such as brocili and asparagus are also grown in the state, Rana said.

"European vegetables are mostly grown through contract farming by leading hotels in the region," he added.

Rana said about 400,000 farmers, many of them with small landholdings, were engaged in off-season vegetable production and the total value of the crops is about Rs 2,500 crore annually. Poly-houses are also being used to produce off-season vegetables.

"Off-season vegetables provide better remuneration compared to traditional crops such as wheat," he said.

Solan, Mandi, Shimla, Kangra, Sirmour, Kullu, Lahaul Spiti and Kinnaur are the main districts where off-season vegetables are produced.

Solan leads the other districts both in total yield and in per hectare production.

Rana said the state government supports the farmers in marketing their produce.

"There is also a growing trend of traders directly doing deals with farmers for their entire produce. We educate farmers so that they are able to get the proper price for their produce," Rana said.

He said the state government was also extending irrigation facilities and promoting measures such as rainwater harvesting.

The state government has started a scheme under the "Mukhyamantri Adarsh Krishi Gaon Yojna" to provide to 68 panchayats, one in each assembly constituency, Rs.10 lakh each to boost agriculture infrastructure and increase the area under cultivation, Rana said.

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at prashant.s@ians.in)