On the sloppy land of Odisha’s Rayagada district, households once depended on migration, shifting cultivation pattern, and welfare schemes. CHES, Bhubaneswar of ICAR-IIHR, introduced technological interventions to plant mango. It has helped improve the lives of tribal farmers in the region. Mohd Mustaquim reports
A mango-based horticulture project was promoted in Kashipur block in the Rayagada district of Odisha in the early 70s. The project, however, could not meet the expectation as it was only taken up by a few tribal farmers.
The hilly region of Kashipur, located in the interior of forest, 400 km away from the state’s capital Bhubaneswar, was abandoned as non-cultivable land. The situation led tribal population to change their livelihood pattern. Many households in the region depended on wages, migration, welfare programmes and shifting cultivation without any soil conservation measure. Later, soil erosion during rainy season was found as a big threat in the high sloppy terrains of Rayagada.
The land is actually best suited for tree-based perennial horticultural crops such as mango, having commercial potential in the area. But the tribal farmers did not realise the commercial value of the fruit. Lack of result demonstration, pest incidence in some of the existing orchards and absence of assured mango marketing channel were the key constraints in making mango cultivation a success or profitable.
In 2002, the Central Horticultural Experiment Station, Bhubaneswar of ICAR’s Indian Institute of Horticultural Research, brought technological interventions to develop mango orchards in the region. However, it was very challenging for CHES to convince the tribals to grow mango in their orchards.
And therefore, the CHES worked on the formula to convince educated non-tribal people to work as agents of change to influence the tribal farmers.
“In the beginning, we caught a couple of such people who had social influence in the region. We worked with them from 2002 to 2010. When tribal farmers of that area saw the changes, I didn’t have to make more efforts in convincing them. I was supposed to convince them by my words, but they got convinced by the work done by the influential people of the area,” says Dr. HS Singh, Head, CHES.
These people served as risk bearer, technology demonstrator and a link between the tribals and the research station. In the existing orchards, nutrient management, fruit fly management, Hot Water Treatment (HWT), fruit packing and transportation, pre/post-harvest interventions for healthy fruits were demonstrated. Meanwhile, the market channel was established to a distance of 400 km. This brought the confidence among the tribal people, paving the way for significant increase in mango per acreage in the tribal villages.
The field demonstration with the ‘agents of change’ motivated the tribal farmers to plant mango in their orchards. Today 550 households in 27 hamlets of eight gram panchayats, Kashipur, Sulgunja, Sunger, Chandragiri, Taljhari, Shankara, Kudipari and Manusgaon, have planted mango on an area of 1150 acres under a high density mode of 5X5 m on unused foot hills, gentle hillocks and sloppy land.
When this began, the research station supported the households with technological interventions such as planting material supply, planting technology, soil management in sloppy land and social mobilisation through village meetings. Tree plantation with good density also puts a check on soil erosion. After a certain period, grass began to cover the surface of orchards, resulting to rebuilding the soil and improving water conservation.
“It has improved the earnings of the tribal farmers. The fruiting and flowering of mango trees usually start within 4-5 years after plantation. For those 550 farmers who planted mango trees in the early stage, the fruiting has already started. Depending upon fruiting, they earn around Rs 30,000 to 40,000 per acre. 3-5 tonnes of mango is harvested in one acre of land,” claims Dr. Singh.
CREATING A MARKETING CHANNEL
Organising some farmers under a society ‘Horticulture and Agriculture Related Panchayats Association for Livelihood’ (HARPAL), a new marketing channel was formed to ensure crop yield. HARPAL works a fund manager, social mobiliser, produce collector, packer, marketer and filed executor.
“If mango is not taken out from there and not supplied outside, it is sold at Rs 2 per kg there as there are no takers in the region. Thus, we formed a separate marketing channel, HARPAL. They buy these mango at Rs 20 per kg and supply it in the urban areas. Bhubaneswar alone consumes around 70-80 percent of Rayagada’s mangoes,”Dr. Singh informs.
The consistent efforts of CHES have resulted to reducing soil erosion and a significant fall in the tradition of shift in cultivation due to availability of an alternative source of livelihood.
While HARPAL provides a channel for marketing, CHES plays the role of a technology provider as well as a demonstrator. The state’s horticulture department oversees the technological execution in the field, and the stockists at Bhubaneswar work as consultants in gathering feedback from the retailers.
Even though only earlier planted orchards have started fruiting and orchards planted later are yet to start fruiting, the production has increased beyond the capacity of hot water treatment plants (WTP) and consumption of Bhubaneswar. It is felt that there is a need to develop more WTPs and explore new markets outside the State, especially in South India.
The multiplying effect, however, of the success is remained to be seen. It must be acknowledged that further technological backup is needed for converting this tribal area into a mango belt. The area has now been selected for implementation of tribal sub-plan by the CHES-IIHR.
Since mango is a summer crop, farmers in the region are still engaged in shifting cultivation method during the off season. No irrigation facility has been developed and the area still totally depends on Monsoon, thus they grow vegetables, maize, millet and paddy in the low lying areas.
Rayagada district falls in the undivided Koraput, Balangir and Kalahandi districts, famously known as KBK region. It is still one of the most backward and underdeveloped districts of India. The successful intervention made by CHES-IIHR deserves recognition. If mango plantation can be made successful in the sloppy rainfed terrains, such project can be replicated elsewhere as well, as per the local weather, soil conditions and viability. This would necessarily improve the livelihoods in the underdeveloped regions of country.