Promotion of nurseries for fruits and plantation crops

N Devachandra, L Wangchu, S Romen Singh, B Singh and BN Hazarika
Horticulture is truly acknowledged as the most important ‘enabler’ of diversifying agriculture, both in India as well as in international scenarios. Whenever agribusiness is talked about, it is horticultural crops that form a significant component. Recently, hortibusiness has also been coined by several horticulture enthusiasts. However, agribusiness is more appropriate as all the allied sectors are interlinked and interdependent. Since the inception of the National Horticulture Board, their slogan- ‘Progress through Horticulture’ inspires everyone. Green Revolution  in the mid 1960s uplifted the country making it attain food security in following decades. On the other hand, the Golden Revolution in the 1990s envisaged nutritional security of the countrymen through fruits and vegetables besides export potential of the floriculture sector. Within horticulture, fruit and plantation crop production management holds tremendous importance due to its perennial nature, need for specific horticultural operations, excellent export potential thereby earning handsome foreign exchanges, providing raw materials for processing industries, incorporating as alternative crops for jhuming and complementary in social forestry and so on.
When fruit and plantation crop cultivation is in question, the foremost concern is quality disease free planting materials especially vegetatively propagated ones. This is because seeds are recommended as propagules for commercial orchards/estates in very few fruit crops (papaya, limes, phalsa and mangosteen) and plantation crops (areca nut, oil-palm, coconut, coffee, etc). Thus, almost all the remaining fruit and plantation crops ought to be propagated through vegetative means to retain and maintain ‘true-to-type’ with regards to desirable mother variety/cultivar of the crop.
Popular fruit and plantation crops that are evaluated by institutional horticulturist and accepted/adopted by growers in different states in NER are apple (traditional & low chilling), kiwi, santra (mandarin), litchi, tea, rubber, oil palm in Arunachal Pradesh; tea (GI Tag), Assam lemon, banana, litchi (Tezpur: (GI Tag), areca nut, coconut, rubber, mandarin (Tinsukia), pineapple in Assam; mandarin (Tamenglong), passion fruit (Senapati-Churachandpur),  pineapple (Thoubal-Churachandpur), kiwi (Senapati), lime (Ukhrul), banana (plains & hills), tea and rubber (Tamenglong-Jiribam) in Manipur; mandarin (Khasi-Jantia-Tura), strawberry (Nayabunglow belt), pineapple (Nongpoh belt), cashewnut (Selsela-Phulbari), areca nut (fermented & supari), rubber (Byrnehat and Bajengdoba) in Meghalaya; grape (Champhai), oil palm, hatkora (Citrus sp.), passion fruit in Mizoram; passion fruit, kiwi, rubber in Nagaland; mandarin and guava in Sikkim; organic pineapple (Kumarghat-Nalkata), tea, rubber cultivation in Tripura. Mentioned has been made only the most popular crops, though numerous newer crops have been continuously adopted by farming community and well adapted agro-climatically with the technical guidance from ICAR, AAU, CAU, CIH and KVKs in the respective regions.
Often the interested farmers and agri-entrepreneurs are facing hardship while getting assured quality clonal planting materials in sufficient quantity. Therefore, they end up using ‘undescriptive’ planting materials raised from seeds. This leads to lots of variation in performance both in vegetative growth of the crops and reproductive parameters in terms of yield and quality. On the other hand, respective state governments are continuously implementing numerous horticulture-based flagship projects wherein fruits and plantation crops form a major component. We have Meghalaya’s Livelihood Projects on Cocoa and Coconut in Garo Hills; New Land Use Policy (NLUP) of Mizoram where perennial fruit trees and plantation crops are emphasized to do away with jhum farming. The Arunachal Pradesh government had identified oil-palm as a thrust crop in the state. In recent times, Tripura is re-emphasizing tea plantations. We should remember that tea plantations were introduced in Tripura as early as the early 1900s. Even in Assam, the number of Small Tea Growers (STGs) in every district of the state is increasing each year. The relevant point is, from where the ever increasing demand for quality planting materials required presently and for the coming years would be made of?Over and above, there is general demand and administrative attempt towards organic farming-organic agriculture-organic horticulture-organic fruit/plantation crop cultivation etc. Whether the states declare or not, demand for organic saplings and planting materials has already been in place. None of the nurseries in any of the states in NER are equipped for the future requirement of ‘organic fruit-plantation crop nurseries’. To be contd