Rampur (Himachal Pradesh): Organic rajma (kidney beans) and apricots grown in the cool climes of Himachal Pradesh are finding a good market in Europe and Latin America.
Over 15,000 farmers are jointly marketing fruits, vegetables, fruit nuts, species, cereals and pulses within and outside India under the brand name HIMOARD or Himalayan Organic Agri-Product Research and Development, a non-profit organization formed in 2001.
It has also forayed into the marketing of walnut oil that is only available in Spain and Austria.
“On an experimental basis we have extracted a small quantity of walnut oil for the first time from the excess crop. It’s good for cooking and body massage and its price is Rs.1,600 ($24) per litre,” HIMOARD chairman R.S. Minhas told IANS.
Delhi-based online grocery store ‘I Say Organic’ has procured the entire lot of 250 litres of walnut oil.
“If the response is good, then from the next year we will go for the bulk production of walnut oil,” he said.
According to him, HIMOARD is also planning to launch walnut oil by blending with apricot oil in the 40:60 ratio.
State agriculture director J.C. Rana said organic farming started in the state in 2002 involving over 4,000 farmers, cultivating 2,500 hectares.
“Today we can proudly say over 18,000 hectares is under organic farming with the involvement of 30,000 farmers,” he said.
There are five certifying agencies to guide farmers on organic farming in the state.
Most of the farmers who adopted organic farming are in the Rampur area in upper Shimla district, where pilot organic farming projects were launched in 2005.
Minhas said there is good demand this year from Latin America for ‘rajma’.
“We got orders of 22 tonnes of ‘rajma’ this season. Since the government of India has banned the export of pulses, we are keeping our fingers crossed to be able to export it,” he said.
Last year, HIMOARD exported eight tonnes of ‘rajma’ and 11 tonnes in 2013.
Likewise, there is an export order for seven tonnes of apricot, priced at around Rs.375 a kg.
“The state produces 13 tonnes of apricots annually. On an average, the state is exporting seven to eight tonnes of apricots mainly to Spain and Austria. This time we got export order of seven tonnes,” Minhas added.
Suraj Thakur, a grower of pulses near Rampur, some 120 km from the state capital, said the Jwala and Chitra varieties of ‘rajma’ are commanding remunerative prices both in India and abroad.
“On an average, we are getting Rs.130 to Rs.140 for a kg of ‘rajma’ from exports. The organic produce is fetching 10 to 20 percent higher prices even in the domestic market,” he said.
The harvesting of ‘rajma’ in the state begins in September-end and continues till December.
Another grower, Jeewan Singh, said by adopting organic means, the farmers can cut cultivation costs up to 70 percent and also improve soil health.
Agriculture is the mainstay of people in the hill state, providing direct employment to about 71 percent of the population.
Interestingly, farmers in the state’s landlocked valleys like Pangi in Chamba district and Dodra Kwar in Shimla district have never used pesticides and fertiliser for growing crops.
The state government is majorly boosting organic farming.
A Rs.321 crore project with the assistance of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is currently under way to push crop diversification, increase farm income by adopting organic farming and creating jobs in rural areas.
According to the state government, an additional 2,000 hectares will be brought under organic farming in this fiscal and 200 villages will be converted into complete bio-villages.