A man's dream has managed to put up a stiff competition against the world famous Darjeeling oranges. No one had ever imagined that oranges would grow in the hot plains of North Dinajpur that too of a quality similar to Darjeeling.
The Mandarin Orange (Citrus reticulate Blanco) is a major cash crop of the Darjeeling Hills. It is grown in approximately 930 hectares in the Darjeeling Hills with an annual production of 148.224 metric tons approximately.
The Oranges cultivated in Darjeeling (West Bengal), Sikkim, Assam, Meghalaya, and Manipur are similar with tight skin, excellent quality, flavour and juice which is completely different from the varieties cultivated in other states like Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Karnataka.
It all began with one man's dream. Mohammad Imajuddin, a resident of Gohara Village, Chakulia Block, North Dinajpur district of West Bengal had visited Darjeeling a few years ago. Like all other tourists, he too paid a visit to the world famous orange orchards in Darjeeling.
On visiting the orchard Imajuddin decided that one day he would own an orchard like this. Imajuddin returned home, 250 km away in the hot plains, with saplings from the orange orchards of Darjeeling.
"I planted the saplings and started carefully nurturing them. Two plants survived and even bore oranges. It is then I knew that I was ready to grow oranges on a commercial scale" stated Imajuddin.
Giving wings to his dreams Imajudding gave up paddy cultivation earlier practiced by him and his ancestors. Instead, he planted more than 100 orange plants on his bigha of land.
"I did not know what fertilizers to use, so I decided to stick to organic farming and used cow dung and other traditional organic fertilizers" added Imajuddin.
This year his dreams bore fruit with his orchard filling up with succulent oranges. A trader from Siliguri even made a trip to his orchard, tasted the oranges and offered him a price that Darjeeling oranges command.
Now Imajuddin's neighbours are interested to cultivate oranges as a cash crop. "I have some more land. From next year I will cultivate oranges in that land too. However, it will be a great help if the Government supports my venture by providing training and other logistical support" stated Imajuddin brimming with his new found success.
The district administration too is proud of Imajuddin's success. "We did not know of this. We will provide all necessary assistance including training by specialists, loans and even help market the oranges to all those who are interested to take up orange cultivation on a commercial scale" stated Ayesha Rani A, District Magistrate.
Incidentally, the world famous Darjeeling oranges are on a steady decline. Plagued by fungal infections, pest attack and less produce owing to aged plants this year too there are chances of a 60% decline in the crop, state orchard owners.
Oranges are harvested from the first week of November to the end of December in the Hills. Despite it being the end of November, Darjeeling oranges have remained elusive in the fruit markets.