Pune: Afour-day spell of un-seasonal rains could well mean an extended season and record production for strawberry farmers in Maharashtra’s twin hill towns of Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar, a region that produces more than 80% of the fruit in the country.
The rains have brought temperatures down and replenished groundwater levels in the region. As a result, the strawberry season, which was about to close, will get a new lease of life and a fresh crop is expected to hit the market from the first week of April.
Strawberry lovers can look forward to an extended season that will last till mid-May, said Kisan Bhilare, vice-president, All-India Strawberry Grower’s Association.
The drop in temperature also means the towns, tucked away in the Shayadru ranges, will produce at least an additional 1,000 tonne of the fruit over the next few weeks. The region had a record production of 13,000 tonnes in 2007-08, up from last year’s 10,000 tonne. If the temperature stays low, the figure could reach 15,000 tonnes.
For the farmers, this means an additional month of business, although prices have come down to Rs40 per kg from a peak of Rs250-300 per kg for the first flush of the fruit in January.
“Even that is additional earnings for the farmers whose families largely live on the earnings during the strawberry season,” Bhilare said.
The strawberry crop thrives in cool climate and needs continuous supply of water, which is why the season usually ends in April when temperatures go up. This year, with the un-seasonal rains, the fruit will be available for sale to summer holiday crowds who usually arrive about mid-April.
Meanwhile, the farmers have decided to get together and tag Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar a strawberry tourism destination, much like the vineyard tourism of Bordeaux and Champagne valley in France, where winery owners allow tourists to take leisurely strolls in their vineyards and taste their house wines.
Over 10,000 tourists from Mumbai and neighbouring places arrived at the hill towns to visit a strawberry festival over the weekend. More than 80 strawberry farms in Bhilar and other villages were opened to tourists, who were allowed to pluck and eat as much of the fruit as they could, for free.
In another part of Mahabaleshwar, Mayur Vora, managing director of Mapro Foods Pvt. Ltd, which makes jams, jellies, crushes and frozen fruit, laid out a feast for visitors. On offer were strawberry bhel, strawberry pizza, strawberry and cream and even a strawberry curry.
“The idea is to make people aware of the possibilities with this fruit,” said Vora.