Exploring horticultural avenues of Manipur

Dr Harshajyoti Barooah
The state of Manipur fulfils all the basic requirements to be a premier horticultural state of India when one considers its agro-climatic situation, topography, natural resources and its inherent strength of horticultural biodiversity. With about ten percent of its cultivable land under valleys, agricultural crops namely paddy, pulses and oil seeds, in spite of intensive cultivation, will not take much time to reach a plateau and thereafter, only option that will remain before the farmers will be the foot hills areas. For a state facing about 49% deficit (2011 estimate) in rice production, shrinking land-man ratio plus conversion of plain lands to non-agricultural purposes is gradually emerging as another dimension of the problem restricting the state to be self-sufficient or surplus in case of paddy. Of course there a scope for developing production beltsof pulses and oil seeds in feasible hilly terrains. Thus, time has come for diversification of the farming sector towards horticulture sector-which is referred as sunrise area globally.
If we look at horticulture sector with all its components of fruits, vegetables, flowers, spices, root crops, medicinal and aromatic crops, mushroom, apiary and their scope of commercialization and value addition part, it can be safely said that sky is the limit for a state like Manipur. By visualizing the agro climatic strength- which is primarily tropical nature and also temperate to some extent, abundance of bio-diversity, strength of local germplasm, strategic geographical location amidst national and international boundaries, proximity to emerging South-East Asian Markets and other competitive and comparative advantages, experts comments that Manipur is a land of missed opportunities. But the silver lining is that, though limited in number, the new generation farmers of the hilly terrains have come up with proven track record that horticulture can be a way of life for them. This is due to their dynamism, innovative approach, initiatives by stake holders and technological interventions. But this is only a tip of the iceberg.
For transforming potentiality of horticulture into reality in the state, time has come to move with short and long term perspective and initiate action for structuring a comprehensive, time bound action plan with precise mandate-aiming precise group of farmers for associating them with precise commercially viable high value crops, providing them appropriate technology under an overall atmosphere of market oriented crop planning. In other words, the situation demands to be location specific, crop specific, technology specific and market specific. Based on these four pillars, each district of Manipur can be explored with required priorities and such an action plan for each district can be summarized to have a state horticulture plan. The expertise of KVKs and ICAR system can be utilized. Inconformity with the saying that ‘seeing is believing’, one Centre of Excellence (COE) may be set up in each district to showcase latest and frontier technologies in Agri-horti sector which may become the nucleus for framers orientation-as farmer’s acceptance is a vital factor for success. Many farmers of Manipur has already started moving towards commercial horticulture which is the need of the hour. Farmers of Tamenglong district are more inclined towards oranges or citrus crops. Similarly high landers of Ukhrul area are a step ahead with Kachai lemon. Farmers near Mao may prefer floriculture as a commercial player. The news item with a caption ‘exquisite flowers now adorn Purul’ in the Sanghai Express dated 29/01/2020 is an eye opener on potentiality of floriculture as well as scope of Horti-Tourism in the state. It may be mentioned that the annual global turnover of floriculture product is 200 billion dollars plus and the market is on the track of fastest growth. Peripheral districts of Imphal city may prefer commercial vegetable cultivation-particularly offseason production for remunerative price. Kiwi has taken root in Kangpokpi district as a commercial fruit. So, acceptance of farmers is not a factor in Manipur and a virgin area is awaiting for policy support for their qualitative and quantitative improvement which is needed to be competitive in the market.
Very recently in an informal discussion during formal inauguration of College of Horticulture, Hengbung, Kangpokpi, the Chief Minister of Manipur expressed that we are to encourage precise crops having market demand in hilly villages and based on that cold storages may be set up in strategic locations to minimise post-harvest losses at field level so that farmers can better their economy. This is a welcome idea but needs follow up by stake holders. The Orchid Research and Development Centre (ORDC) and Ethno Medicinal Research Centre (EMRC) under FEEDs group of institutes at Hengbung, is sure to pave the way for exploring valuable horticultural assets of the State. When the income generation as well as employment generation are the issues for the state, horticulture alone can unveil many options. There are self-employment avenues of diverse nature like nursery, mushroom production, apiary, floral enterprises, fruit and vegetable preservation, bio packaging, organic production and so on – many of whom may be quite lucrative particularly for the business oriented ladies of the state who are already at the fore front of economic activities. Horticulture is the creative science and very much in conformity with the aspirations of the new generations of farmers, farm women and entrepreneurs. This science also gives ways and means to counter ill-effects of climate change, environmental degradation, global warming and at the same time provide scope for sustainable use of natural resources. The most important part is innovativeness, orientation and exposure of target groups and finally market linkage. Perhaps stake holders under private and public domain has a role to play in this regard with commitment and earnestness.
The writer is Dean, College of Horticulture, Hengbung, Manipur