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Mahabaleshwar poised for strawberry boom
Commodity Online | April 11, 2007 13:41 IST
A strawberry revolution is in the making in Mahabaleshwar. With France and Belgium setting its eyes on the red fruit from this small region, farmers in Mahabaleshwar have decided to double the cultivation this year to 3,000 acres from the present 1,500 acres.
To add to the farmers' joy, this year they are expecting a bumper crop of 10,000 tonnes from the Mahabaleshwar and Panchagani regions.
They also expect an export order of 2,000 tonnes strawberries from the France- and Belgium-based processing units of global FMCG major Unilever for the next season.
Retail biggies such as Reliance and Bharti have also set their eye on the red fruit with a growth in the food processing industry.
According to All India Strawberry Growers Association office-bearers, the association has been exporting strawberry to the Middle East since past few years. But this year, they got an export order from the France and Belgium-based processing units of Unilever.
This year, the association executed an order of 100 tonnes of intensive quick frozen (IQF) strawberries to Unilever. Next year, the body has been asked to deliver 2,000 tonnes of strawberries by Unilever.
There has been a huge demand for the short day variety of strawberry such as Sweet Charlie and Camarosa in the domestic markets from large retailers such as Reliance and Bharti.
The Mahabaleshwar region, which accounts for 85-87% of strawberry produced in the country, has 1,500 acres of land under cultivation. This huge growth in the market has led the 850-odd farmers to increase in the acreage of the area under cultivation of strawberry.
The farmers are planning to add another 1,500 acres of land this year to meet the demand. They are also experimenting to cultivate strawberry in the backwaters of Koyna river.
The farmers now import all strawberry rootstocks from California in June to get the fruit in November. These rootstocks are patented by Florida and California Universities costing Rs 11 to 19 per plant which also includes the quarantine tax levied by the Plant Quarantine Authority under the farm ministry.
But the farmers are getting the certified plant, which is a third generation crop. However, the farmers feel that the universities should give them the mother plants or the first generation plants so that they can produce up to 15 tonnes of strawberry per acre as opposed to the existing 6 tonnes per acre.
Another worry of the ryots is that in order to execute export orders, the farmers have to get the strawberries frozen in IQF, a facility not available in Mahabaleshwar.
This year, the farmers used the IQF facility of Chordiya Food Park at Shirval, near Pune. Cashing in on the lack of this facility, Mapro Products, a Mahabaleshwar-based food products company, plans to set up an IQF and cold storage facility with an investment of Rs 20 crore having a capacity of 10 tonnes per day.
One acre of land grows 22,000 strawberry plants in this region with each plant producing 400 gm of strawberry.