By Hemant Chauhan
Shimla, June 3 : Cherry cultivation is gaining popularity in Himachal Pradesh, as the traditionally apple-growing farmers find it a profitable alternative to other cash crops.
Farmers and other growers of cherries have found out these fruits to be an ideal alternative to many cash crops.
Cultivators say the fast-growing crop is giving them good returns, as production cost is much lower compared to nurturing an apple orchard.
Moreover, the season for cherries falls much before the apple blossoms, allowing even the conventional farmers to experiment with it as a supplementary crop without compromising on the apple produce.
Cherry orchards are mushrooming across the State and many unemployed youth have found employment as farm hands in packaging and marketing of the crop.
Cherry growers in Kandyali near Narkanda in Shimla District are a happy lot. They have reaped ample profits and benefits from cherries.
"It is providing employment and we get more benefit from the cherry than other crops like apple. It comes in off season when we have no fruits here. We have no marketing problem in Shimla. So we give preference to cherry instead of apples.
We are getting rupees 120-150 per kilogram in the markets of Delhi and Shimla.
Our cherries are being sent to Delhi via cars and we are sending it to Shimla also by cars and along with that we have to pay no commission. We get benefits from that also. The labour hands are also available since there is not season these days," said Jeet Ram Verma, a Cherry grower.
Women in the rural Shimla have taken to cherry farming as a supplement to their families' earnings.
"This work is easy work for women and children. A box of apple weighs around 20 kilograms but the cherries' box weighs around a kilogram. So it's an easy work for the women and children. During Sundays, the children do the work with enthusiasm. As compared to apple trees, which demand much patience and care, the plants of cherry start giving good fruits in three years time. The apple plant takes ten years before it yields fruit. We grow 20-25 trees of apples in one Bigha land whereas at least 35 Cherry shrubs can be planted in the same area," said Durgu, a horticulturist of cherries.
Even Nepalese youth come to Shimla every year to get a good amount of money during the time of cherry. Farmers say with the initial response being good, the government must now step in with technological and marketing expertise to help them tap the cherry crop commercially.
In Himachal Pradesh, 2,000 hectares of land is under cherry cultivation. Last year, the State recorded production of 438 tonnes of cherries of which 420 tonnes were grown in Shimla region alone.
In Shimla District, Narkanda, Kandayli, Kotgarh-Kumarsen, Rampur, Rohru, and Kotkhai are the main areas of cherry cultivation.