With chemical-free products that sell for up to ??100 / kg, fruit growers in Himachal Pradesh are increasingly turning to natural agriculture.
Fruit growers claim that the switch to natural farming has also reduced their input costs, thus increasing the profit margin. Shakuntala Sharma, based in Theog, says: “A trader who saw the ‘natural product’ label on my produce at the local market in Dhamandri immediately bought all my fruit for. ??100 per kilogram, which is much higher than what was offered to other producers who had used pesticides on their fruit. Now the buyers are coming to my door. Not only do I sell my fruit at a high price, but I also save ??50,000 to 60,000 that were usually spent on pesticides.
Sharma is among the farmers who use the Subash Palekar Natural Agriculture Technique (SPNF), where cow dung, herbs and local resources are used to increase fertility and ward off pests.
Ravinder Chauhan, who grows apples on eight bighas of land, says apples grown using natural farming technique have given him whooping cough ?? 4,200 to 4,500 per box this year. “The ups and downs of the market don’t affect me as much as buyers pay me a fixed rate up front,” he said.
The chemical-free, low-cost, climate-resilient SPNF technique is promoted for agricultural and horticultural crops in Himachal Pradesh through Prakritik Kheti Khushal Kisan Yojna (PK3Y), launched in 2018.
So far, 1,33,056 farmers, including more than 12,000 apple growers, practice natural agriculture in the hill state on approximately 7,609 hectares of land.
Surender Mehta, a fruit grower in Lalpani Dochi village in the Chopal subdivision, said traders in Jaipur and Delhi had removed the produce from his orchard and also paid 10-15% more for it than on the local market. His pears sold ??150 per kilogram.
PK3Y Executive Director Dr Rajeshwar Singh Chandel said the State Project Implementation Unit (SPIU) is looking for farmers with innovative marketing models. “This will help us to bring these fruitful links between farmers and markets together with our program,” he said.
According to a government study, the natural agricultural technique reduced the cost of growing apples by about 56.5%, while profits increased by 27%. The apple crop grown by natural agriculture also has fewer occurrences of diseases like scab and marssonin spot.