While the native fruits of Nagaland are persimmon, chestnut, walnut, hazelnut, plums, avocado, pears, peach, lemon and guava, among others, if you happen to visit Noklak near Assam, you are bound to come across litchi, kiwi, orange and other plantations that are not specific to the region.
These unique plantations do not exist by accident. They have sprung up as a result of a 30-year long effort put by a native for his love and passion for fruits.
L Hangthing from Noklak belonged to a farming family where his forefathers grew paddy and other vegetables through traditional agriculture methods. The family was poor and could hardly make ends meet.
“We were a family of 12 with ten siblings, and I am the fifth child. I was always fascinated by fruits. I would accompany my father on his trips to Dimapur, and learned about so many fruits on those 12-14 hour journeys. I always wanted to taste fruits like mangoes, kiwi, and litchis,” he tells The Better India.
But whenever they passed a fruit vendor and the little boy, now 55, expressed his desire to eat one, his father would always tell him they could not afford it. Today, however, he has successfully created a 40-acre nursery that has not only helped him earn a decent income, but also enabled other farmers to earn additional income from horticulture.
Dream becomes reality
As a 10-year-old, Hangthing decided to collect seeds of the fruits thrown away by vendors or consumers. “I would then plant them on our farmland,” he says.
In 1987-88, when Hangthing turned 15 years old, he decided to start a nursery. “I used the collected seeds and sowed them haphazardly. I had no technical knowledge and used my judgment for the task. I sowed small seeds half an inch in the soil while I pushed the seeds with the bigger size to almost two inches deep. It was all experimental,” he says.
Hangthing says he failed with most of the seed varieties. “It was only the fourth or fifth time that I started succeeding. I kept changing methods or depths of sowing seeds, which yielded results. I learned from experience that every seed required different treatment,” he admits.
He says that though the seeds germinated, the saplings often failed to survive. “Friends, acquaintances and relatives mocked me and said that fruits like orange, apple, guava, kiwi, litchi and mango have never grown in our geographical area and never will, owing to the weather conditions,” he says.
Hangthing kept failing but continued his efforts. “Even if I did not receive any output, I would go back to sowing. I had nothing to lose. I had no choice but to move forward, even though it came with hardships and pain,” he says, adding, “My parents struggled to provide a comfortable life for the family. I wanted to get out of poverty by becoming financially independent and improve my standard of living.”
He struggled for seven long years to finally reap success. “I had grown some plants like oranges, lemons and others on two hectares of land. People living in the neighbourhood started noticing the success and visited the nursery. They felt intrigued and wanted to buy the saplings. My first customer was the soil department from the state government, who bought a few saplings and paid Rs 12. It was my first earning and that day continues to be the most special one of my life,” he adds.
Hangthing deposited the money he had earned and decided to construct a small entrance to the nursery. “There was no approach road, and I decided to borrow money and set up a door for potential customers to make the nursery identifiable and accessible,” he says.
Appreciating his success, farmers in the village started approaching him and requested him to help them with growing the fruit plants. “The farmers mainly grew jute and other conventional crops like paddy. They invited me to their farms to teach them how to grow fruit plants,” he says.
Since then, Hangthing has helped over 1,000 farmers in about 50 villages, including the remotest hamlets located along the Myanmar border. His nursery business earns him Rs 60,000 per month. “Sometimes I even earn more,” he says, adding that he gives free seeds and saplings to poor farmers.
Beyond fruit saplings, he helped farmers grow cardamom, coffee and other vegetables like potatoes. “I sourced the seeds from the agriculture and horticulture department in Kohima. I even tried a lot to grow apple plants, but have accepted that the weather and soil are not suitable for the fruit,” he says.
Hangthing says that litchi plantations are the most popular among farmers in his village. “There are about 150 farmers who are growing litchi and are benefiting from the same,” he adds.
Creating alternative income sources
Hangthing has also started fish farming to gain an alternative source of income. “I grow and sell fingerlings, juvenile fish that are about the size of a finger. My efforts are to help people earn more income and grow fruits and vegetables that will reduce their dependence on the market,” he says.
Lusup is one of the many farmers who has benefited from Hangthing. “I have worked with him for four years and started my own farm to grow kiwi and litchi on 4 hectares of land. I have also started fish farming recently. Earlier, I used to earn Rs 10,000 a month, and now the income has increased to around Rs 50,000,” Lusup says.
Hangthing has recently set up a Farmer Producers’ Organisation (FPO) and registered it with NAFED (National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India).
“About 300 farmers have joined the FPO called Noklak Agrifed Allied Company Pvt Ltd, and are being trained in food processing and producing products like soaps, shampoo, oils, juices, jams and cosmetic and herbal products,” he says.
He adds that the state administration has provided the necessary equipment, and the production will start in the coming weeks.
Hangthing says he is satisfied with his work and the success he achieved over the years. “I have learned that dedication and hard work can only earn respect in society. Some of my siblings have also set up a nursery, and I am proud to have helped provide them with a better life,” he adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu