Maharashtra is the leading producer of grapes in India, and Nashik contributes a significant share in helping achieve that. This enormous production is also the reason for the flourishing wine industry in Nashik, which has earned the title of being the wine capital of India.
However, Chandrakant Hyaliz, a farmer from Akhatwade village, is swimming against the tide, to grow Himachal apples.
The achievement is significant as the region receives less rainfall and experiences humid climate. Apples are fruits that grow in cold weather conditions.
Against all odds
Chandrakant says his father Pandharinath used to work in a Mumbai mill that shut down in 1999. “After losing his job, my father returned home to pursue farming for sustenance. Meanwhile, I pursued vocational training and worked odd jobs in Pune and Nashik. But our income was not enough,” the 27-year-old tells The Better India.
So the father-son duo decided to pursue pomegranate farming in 2005 and planted saplings on family-owned land of two acres.
“However, hailstorms in 2012 destroyed the crops, causing a loss of 15 tonnes of the fruit. We continued the plantation on the small patch but also decided to grow grapes using organic methods on one acre,” he says.
Chandrakant says the grapes gave good yield, and the two fruits then allowed the family to sustain themselves financially for a while. However, the increasing severity of the water crisis due to less rainfall, as well as depleting groundwater resources due to erratic weather, forced the family to turn to new fruits and farming methods again.
“In 2016, we learned about apples from Himachal Pradesh HRMN-19 through a WhatsApp group chat. I went to Himachal Pradesh to understand the plant variety and its weather and water requirements. The variety is known to grow in warm climatic conditions and does not require heavy amounts of water. We decided to experiment with it in Nashik weather conditions. In 2017, we decided to plant 30 saplings at Rs 150 each,” he explains.
Chandrakant says that in January 2018, they planted the saplings on a quarter acre of land. “We kept a gap of 14×13 feet between the saplings, and 23 of them survived,” he says.
Chandrakant frequently sprayed biopesticides and insecticides on the plants. “We used organic leaves, grass and other agricultural residues for mulching to maintain the climatic conditions and prevent damage to the fruits during ripening stage,” he says.
Chandrakant adds that on one occasion, the region experienced unseasonal heavy rainfall which caused flooding around the plantation. The maintenance ended up costing Rs 10,000.
However, in 2020, each plant yielded five kilos of fruit. “The apples were light red and yellow in colour, and we distributed some of them among friends and relatives,” he says, adding that the following year, each of the 23 trees bore 20 kilos of apples, producing 460 kilos in total.
Chandrakant adds that in 2021, he sold some harvest in the village market at Rs 150 a kilo to check commercial viability and take customer feedback. “The customers appreciated the quality of the fruit, giving us the confidence to grow more. We now plan to increase the plantation to a 1-acre area this year and sell the fruits commercially,” he says, adding, “We are glad that the experiment worked in our favour.”
Edited by Divya Sethu