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Indian orange growers searching for sustainable agricultural options

For decades, India’s Jampui Hills have been known as the ‘Orange Bowl’. But a changing climate has led farmers on a search for sustainable agriculture.

Hillol Datta, travelled for two days from Kolkata to Jampui Hills to see its fruit-laden orange orchards. However, after driving for several hours, all the young traveller saw were bald patches along the hill slopes and scattered rows of areca (nut) palm trees.

“This is disappointing. I had heard so much about the orange orchards of Jampui. Even my father had said that there would be gold against the green all over the hills here. But I only saw supari (areca palm) trees,” Datta tpltd IPS.

There are 10 villages in Jampui, which has a total population of 12,000, according to the last national census (2011). The cultivation of oranges first started here in the 1960s, but gained popularity in the mid-1980s when almost all the villages began growing oranges, making the cash crop their main source of livelihood.

India is dependent on agriculture, which accounts for 23 percent of its GDP and employs 59 percent of the country’s workforce. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) states that agriculture, “is the largest source of livelihoods in India. 70 percent of its rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, with 82 percent of farmers being small and marginal“.

Since the cultivation of the fruit here in the 1960s it has attracted traders and tourists in equal numbers. In fact, the oranges were the main attraction at the Jampui Orange Festival – an annual cultural event organised each winter, which celebrated the hill landscape and the art and culture of the local indigenous Mizo tribes during the orange harvest season.

Good quality, high demand
In India, Nagpur remains the most popular orange-growing district. Yet in the markets of eastern India, Jampui oranges usually fetched higher prices —240 to 300 rupees ($4 to $5) a dozen— compared to 100 to 150 rupees ($1.5 to $2.5) for oranges from Nagpur. Besides, tourists and buyers of the oranges came from the neighbouring states of Assam, Meghalaya and West Bengal.

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