Rich in Vitamin C, amla up for grabs at Kutchery Road in Ranchi on Monday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Ranchi, Dec. 3: Jharkhand has seen a bumper harvest of gooseberries this year, the 15,000-tonne yield being attributed to the efforts of two agricultural think tanks that managed to sow the seeds of curiosity and interest among 2,000 farmers.
Indian gooseberry, or amla, is a small green fruit that grows in bushes with thorns. They are found in abundance in the districts of Latehar, Gumla, Lohardaga, Garhwa, Palamau, Chatra, Khunti and Hazaribagh whose dry climate is congenial for their growth.
This year, more than 2,000 farmers are reaping the benefits of their efforts, egged on with technical support by ICAR Research Complex for Eastern Region, Plandu, and Jharkhand State Horticulture Mission, a society formed under National Horticulture Rural Mission (NHRM).
The two varieties grown this year are Kanchan and NS7. Gooseberries, known to be a rich source of Vitamin C, is used to make jam, pickle and pie. They also grow naturally in the forests and are collected by tribals to be sold at the village haat.
Heaps of amla, being sold by women at Kutchery market, is a familiar sight in the state capital that heralds the advent of winter. This apart, some of the amla sold here come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
These days they are being offered at Rs 20 a kg. “Every day we bring 60kg amla and by evening we are able to make Rs 1,200. We buy them from farmers and also collect from forests,” said Shanti Bhengra (45) of Pithoria in Ranchi’s Kanke block.
Dhanantri Devi (65) of Sukurhutu in Kanke block does not have the luxury of collecting gooseberries from the forests. “Every day, I buy 20 kg amla which come from Sasaram, Bihar,” she said.
Others like Malti Kujur (40) and Sarswati Devi (38) travel 70km from Rania block in Khunti district to sell amla every morning. “This season we have been able to earn some extra,” Kujur smiled.
According to Jharkhand State Horticulture Mission, the total production of amla this year in the hinterlands was estimated to be around 10,000-15,000 tonne, way more than the 3,000-4,000 tonne logged last year. In 2009-2010 production was even less.
Jharkhand State Horticulture Mission director Prabhakar Singh said amla was ideal for the state. “We have planted amla in special pockets in dry regions, especially in Latehar, Gumla, Lohardaga and Palmau,” he said, adding that over 6,000 acre was being used to grow amla in the state.
“We started working with farmers in 2006 and supported them to grow amla in an organised manner,” he added.
In Jharkhand, February-March is the best time for planting amla and by May-June fresh leaves start appearing on the thorny bushes. By July, August and September, fruits begin to show up. They finally make it to markets in the winter months of end-October, November and December.
In between amla, farmers are known to plant guava and papaya, said Singh.
Vikas Das, a fruit scientist with ICAR, Plandu, said Jharkhand had huge potential in growing gooseberries, which require a mix of dry climate and alkaline soil found in the districts.
“Among the many details we shared with farmers, we asked them to ensure that each tree was planted at a distance of 10 meter from each other. We also recommended two varieties of amla, Kanchan and NS7,” he said.
Apart from selling in open markets and vegetable outlets, farmers have found a new set of customers this year. They are also selling to various NGOs, who have formed women’s self- help groups to make pickles and murabba.