Mumbai: After making Maharashtra’s twin hill towns of Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar the strawberry capital of the country, farmers in this region are now attempting to grow blueberries, which have gained huge popularity in the West for immunity-boosting properties.
The move will also give the region’s farmers an alternative income as price realizations from strawberry are expected to drop over the next three years.
A few farmers at the Shriram Fruit Processing Cooperative Society Ltd in Mahabaleshwar, which has been instrumental in driving strawberry exports and its sale to organized retailers in India, are now planting blueberries on an experimental basis, on a 5-acre farm.
“Blueberries require the same kind of climatic conditions as strawberries. For our farmers, this will also give an alternative to strawberry production, which is now becoming an overly produced fruit”, Balasaheb Bhilare, president of the All India Strawberry Growers Association, said.
Mahabaleshwar grows more than 80% of the country’s total produce of the berry and this year 15,000 tonnes of the berry is expected to be harvested in the November-March season.
Blueberry cultivation will be financially a better alternative to the farmers—an acre of crop will yield more than 10 tonnes of berry, against 8 tonnes for strawberries. Also, strawberry runners have to be planted every year, which is an expensive proposition—an acre requires an investment of Rs2.9 lakh and yields revenue of Rs4 lakh. A blueberry bush, on the other, hand has a life of 20 years and requires only annual pruning.
“We don’t have to do extensive flattening of the land because this can be planted on the natural slopes of our land,” Krishna Bhilare, chairman of the Shriram Fruit Processing Cooperative Society, said.
Mahabaleshwar’s strawberry farmers have also found European buyers who are attracted to produce from this region largely because farmers use eco-friendly, pesticide-free farming techniques, which are in line with the stringent import regulations of European markets.