Cluster ventures change Uttarakhand: May become largest apple exporter: Adding INR 5,000 cr to economy

A country that is having crunch of jobs is going a different way for creation of livelihood in the poorest areas of remote hills. It is creating opportunities in the inaccessible villages. It is a less talked about national project of the central ministry of science and technology (MST), department of Science and Technology (DST) starting with the people of Garhwal and Kumaon hills in Uttarakhand. The programme can gradually be replicated in the North-Eastern regions. The programme aims at creating self-sufficient clusters, called gram sankuls, trying to empower the community by letting them mobilize resources, technology, management and training support, says Dr Mahesh Sharma, chairman, special task force of the MST and chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi University, Motihari.These can be classified as a bit more than start ups, dream mission of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which he talks of all the time even during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia. The sankuls could add Rs 5,000 crore to Rs 2.63 lakh crore state economy, employ large numbers and ensure happiness in due course, Sharma says.The programme is spread in a vast area covering 65 villages through four clusters in Haridwar, Tehri Garhwal, Rudraprayag and Kausani in Bageshwar in Uttarakhand. It creates interface with villagers and hi-tech local labs, universities and other institutions and has low cost of Rs 6.3 crore.One such hi-tech lab Indo-Dutch Horticulture Technologies in Bhimtal, Nainital through cloning, tissue culture has introduced high density apple orchard plantation system. Each plant of apple, gladiolus, blueberry, blackberry and strawberry and other exotic flowers fetch fancy sums, says its joint MD Siddharth Chaddha. He has technology support from Netherland and gets incentives from UCOST.Over 70 percent of the people in the state are dependent on agriculture. In districts like Chamoli, Uttarkashi and Tehri about 45 percent of the population is below the poverty line. Overall the state has 30 to 40 percent people living below the poverty.A large number of people is migrating as income from agriculture is not constant and stable. It is causing distress and instability. Stemming it through doles or loans is not a sustainable model, Sharma says. People want to be in their native places but they have to be strengthened by involving them in self-sustaining ventures. These include agriculture, horticulture, floriculture, traditional arts and crafts in a scientific manner.The basic is to provide stability through livelihood. During the last two years the programmes are succeeding and have involved over one lakh people (state’s population is 1.35 crore) in four districts at different altitudes beginning at 290 metre as in Gendikhata in Haridwar to about 2100 metre in Kausani in Bageshwar.As per the altitude, selection of plants, crops and other details change. The Uttarakhand State Council for Science and Technology has that difficult task of creating the interface for the entrepreneurs since 2017.As climate and other aspects change each district or region has to follow a diverse model to make them competitive, sustainable with a scientific base.Initiating these clusters has not been easy. Bringing people together with a common aim for not only creating a model but also sustainable livelihood is not easy. Motivating them to be together has been a challenge in an area where vast stretches have to be traversed on foot. This is challenge for management and marketing.But the sankuls or clusters have become lively, says Sharma and gives credit to UCOST scientists like Piyush Joshi and advisors like Threes Kapur who continuously maintain live contact with the key cluster persons. A major achievement has been involvement of women in these experimentations. The UCOST provides them kits and marketing support.Some women like Prema Joshi, president of the Kausani cooperative, Champa Joshi, Deeksha and Hema Pant have been great strengths. Prema has been instrumental in setting up a school in an area where there was none. She says it was not easy to motivate parents to send children to schools. Now over 800 children attend her school and in many cases they motivate the parents in her new cluster work.Prema says people are circumspect. They are difficult to convince that these programmes initiated by government but with least funds could succeed and become profitable. She spends days in discussion to make people join the programme, which in her area has started yielding modest profits, a part of which goes to the corpus of the cooperative. She has also been providing them quality implements.Heera Singh, a farmer and organizer of the cooperative, benefitted from poly-house vegetable cultivation and contributed Rs 20,000 last season. Twenty others are in honeybee cultivation and five in mushroom.The response from initial lukewarm has now become warm as just 100 gramme bichhu ghaas or Himalayan nettle grass pain killer oil fetches them Rs 200. The grass fibre is used to weave shawls that have demand among tourists and local markets.At Haridwar, they are growing avocado, medicinal plants with support of some local universities, orange and pears. Each region has different specialty. That helps the farmers having niche markets and check competition among clusters. The margins are usually high.The poly-houses – large sheds made of polythene sheets for initial stability to cultivation like vegetables or crops, poly-nets for transplanting and growing these in controlled climate. The poly-technology with mix chambers and net-chambers protect the crops from extreme cold, snow or heat and gives the cooperative members sustainable income. It also saves plants from wild animals like monkeys and boars. Each poly-house earns them Rs 1 lakh or more. It can increase with addition, processing, preservation of fruits, use of tissue culture and bank financing. Siddhant Chaddha says that experimentation in his farm has shown that Uttarakhand can be the largest apple grower by adopting new methods. Tiny Holland controls 80 percent of the world apple exports. His lab, a model for local farmers, draws students even from Arunachal for studying new techs.The new technology saves the farmers’ crops and checks migration. The poly-house technology has helped them sell organic vegetables to local hotels. The farmers, however, cannot meet more the demand. The clusters are considering ways to increase production with UCOST help.With modest investments, says Sharma, and intense efforts and marketing Uttarakhand is planning to transform the state to emerge as a national model through synergizing rural community.

———————————————————————Shivaji Sarkar

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