Silchar, Sept. 3: A feel-good factor is at present sweeping through Assamís largest pineapple orchard in Hmarkhawlien, 25km from here, in Cachar districtís Lakhipur block, with south-east Manipur on its border.
The cash books of the 1,000 fruit farmers in the foothills of the village, peopled with the Christian Hmar community, a Mizo tribe, are ringing, following a record output this summer and the resultant profit.
According to Ngursunthang, a 75-year-old veteran pineapple farmer and a former chairman of the Barak Valley Hill Tribesí Development Council, the village has recorded an all-time high output of pineapples this summer around a whopping one crore pieces.
Another 20 lakh pieces of pineapples were produced in the village during autumn.
He added that this surge in production of pineapples has also spawned a series of problems.
This includes the lack of a modern cold storage for storing the fruit and the recurrent non-availability of a proper transport system to ferry the pineapples to both the wholesale and retail outlets in the district and outside.
A visit to Hmarkhawlien any time this summer is bound to unfold the scene of piles of the pineapples stacked high at different places by the side of National Highway 53, connecting this town with Imphal.
The frenetic activity that characterises this village in summertime with the farmers collecting pineapples from the groves and then unloading them in the rows of trucks lining the highway, is definitely a refreshing scene for the visitors there.
One particular feature of the Hmarkhawlien fruit farmers is their collective reluctance to use fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides.
The current chairman of the council, Lalthamlien Neitham, also a pineapple-grower, said, ďOur farming here is totally organic and we are so obsessed with pineapple cultivation that we do not grow any other crops here, not even rice.Ē
In a nutshell, the farming of pineapples is the mainstay of the economy of about 5,500 inhabitants of Hmrkhawlien and the nearby fruit orchards of Labankhal, Molong and Sonbari. The process of growing pineapples is undoubtedly a rigorous and time-consuming procedure.
During the farming of this fruit, trimming, pruning and cleansing of the shrubs that surround any of the pineapple fields on the slopes of the highland and hills are required thrice in a farming season.
According to L.T Hmar, a pineapple farmer, there are two types of this fruit that bedeck the clusters of orchards in Hmarkhawlien. One is of a size above 14 inches and the other variety has size measuring between 12 and 14 inches.
He, however, rued the fact that the farmers there are constantly fleeced and exploited by the wily traders from the plains, who in general buy a big-sized fruit for Rs 8 only, but reap a large profit selling them for Rs 20 each.
He said the growers have no other alternative than to sell their fruits at a low rate, as most of these orchard owners are heavily indebted to the traders, who double as the buyer also.
The bank loans are few and far between. The pineapple-growers of Hmarkhawlien and its adjacent villages would prosper even more if the banks would give them loans with a low interest rate.
It is also required to set up a pineapple processing factory in the village to enable the orchard owners to arrange exports in the form of canned sliced fruits and juices.
Earlier, there was a fruit processing factory run by a cooperative, but it closed down in 1985, because of mismanagement, though it was exporting pineapple juice to Russia.
The plantation in Hmarkhawlien was founded in 1932 by a Welsh Baptist pastor, James Roberts, who brought saplings from Tripura but enhanced its sweet flavour through various farming experiments.
The sugar content of the Hmarkhawlien pineapples is between 16 and 18 per cent, an all-time-high in the Northeast.