Tribal women pioneer strawberry farming in Odisha; earn a profit of Rs 15 lakh per acre

Tribal women farmers in Odisha’s Kandhamal district are earning Rs 20 lakh per acre in revenues from strawberry farming. The state government's rural development arm ORMAS is marketing the strawberries bought by India’s top retailers at over Rs350 per kg

Niroj Ranjan Misra
New Update
kandhamal strawberries

Women farmers in Odisha's tribal-dominated Kandhamal district with their strawberry produce

Chandama Pradhan, a Kondh tribal in the Beradakia village of Odisha’s Kandhamal district, can’t believe her luck. Until two years back, she and her family would struggle to make ends meet. But today, Chandama, along with nine other women farmers, makes a profit of Rs 15 lakh per acre through strawberry farming in her village. 

The ten women are members of the self-help group (SHG) ‘Annapurna’. They collectively practice organic strawberry farming on two acres of land in the tribal-dominated Kandhamal district, which has turned out to be an excellent region for cultivation due to its hilly terrain and cold climate.

Like Annapurna, SHG Ashirbad in the adjoining Barepanga village had achieved bumper returns from strawberry last fiscal. The new crop was introduced in Odisha two years back. “The farming of strawberries was taken up by us under the High-Value Crop of Mission Shakti. The government agencies in Kandhmal facilitated training and setting up of the infrastructure,” says Chandama.

Mission Shakti programme of the Odisha government aims to double the farm incomes of 1 lakh women farmers in 12 tribal-dominated districts. Kandhamal is home to particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) like Kondh and Kutia Kondha who have limited livelihood opportunities.

Sowing the seeds for profitable strawberry farming

The strawberry farming project has been implemented by the Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society (ORMAS) along with the State Horticulture Department and Odisha Livelihood Mission (OLM). The organic berries are marketed by ORMAS as ‘Kandhamal Strawberry’.   

harevesting strawberries
Harvesting strawberries in Kandhamal. Pic: ORMAS

Santosh Kumar Rath, OLM’s District Project Manager, Kandhamal, says the saplings of the Winter Dawn strawberry variety were purchased from Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra, for the SHGs. About 22,000 saplings, each priced at Rs13, were planted in one acre. With a mortality rate of 10 to 20 percent, around 19,000 saplings survived in an acre. 

“The yield per plant ranges from 300 gm to 400 gm,” he points out.

Priscilla Pradhan, the secretary of SHG ‘Asashar’ in village Sulumaha, says, “We sell in packs of 200 gm each at Rs 500 per kg in the local market. But our price for ORMAS is Rs 350 per kg as it is purchased in bulk. ORMAS resells at a minimal profit margin of around 10 percent to Reliance Fresh,” she says. Reliance Fresh buys over 10 quintals (1000 kg) every week during the ongoing harvest season.

With a minimum yield of 300 gm per plant, around 19000 plants yield 5700 kg per acre. Even if the whole produce is sold at the lower end of Rs350 per kg, the income per acre will still be around Rs20 lakh. 

“Usually one acre requires an investment of nearly Rs 5 lakh including the expenses on saplings (2.86 lakh), organic manures, drip irrigation (one-time cost) etc. The net profit after deducting expenses is around Rs15 lakh to Rs16 lakh per acre,” Santosh says.

mulched plants
Strawberry plants with mulching (left) and fresh produce (right). Pic: ORMAS 

Marketing it right

ORMAS has facilitated the sale of strawberries through its own outlet as well as to retail players. 

Durga Prasad Bhuyan, the deputy chief executive officer of ORMAS, Kandhamal, says, “Every week, during the harvest season, we sell over two tons (2000 kg) of strawberries through Reliance Fresh and our outlet in Phulbani, the district headquarters of Kandhamal.”

He adds, “We plan to sell over five tons per week shortly after roping in online giants like BigBasket and Mother Diary.” 

“We have also trained them to prepare value-added products like jam, squashes and sauces,” says Prashant Kumar Tripathy, the project director of Watershed, Kandhamal. 

Kandhamal strawberries are packed and ready for sale. Pic: ORMAS

Value-added products are necessary as strawberries are highly perishable. They have a shelf life of three days after harvesting. “Value addition is important to minimize fruit wastage and maximize the incomes for tribal women farmers," says Bhuyan of ORMAS.

Also Read: Lawyer quits job to grow raspberry and blueberry in Pune; gets bumper harvest

Investments and requirements for strawberry cultivation

Strawberry farming requires a cold climate for good growth of plants. In Kandhamal, which is over 3000 feet above sea level, this climate prevails from October to February. “The maximum temperature should be 22 degrees Celsius for a healthy plant to yield 300 grams to 400 grams of strawberries. Each berry can weigh 40 grams to 50 grams in these climatic conditions,” says Mihir Samantaray, the former deputy director of horticulture (DDH Kandhamal. He is associated with the project even after his superannuation last year.

Strawberry farming must be done in the upland, as plants require less water, However, consistent moisture is necessary for optimal production as plants are shallow-rooted. They need 300 mm to 450 mm of water during the growing season, according to Bhubaneswar-based agriculturist Nirmal Panda. 

The state government has procured strawberry saplings from Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra. Pic: ORMAS

Optimum irrigation facilities have been ensured with the installation of drip irrigation networks, which supply water to the roots of the plant, minimizing wastage as well as weed growth. 

The investment for drip irrigation is around Rs 1.6 lakh per hectare (2.47 acres). The beneficiaries have put up drip infrastructure by availing subsidies under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana in coordination with OLM and the state horticulture department.  

Also Read: Odisha’s tribal women stitch a bright future with siali leaf plates

The tribal women farmers undertook the work of land development. 

The farmers were trained in strawberry farming through camps at the district and block levels. The allied activities of mulching, preparing organic manures and land fencing were undertaken with the assistance of the GPL Fund.

“Two scientists from Mahabaleshwar along with one from the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) have trained the beneficiaries,” says Prashant Kumar of Watershed, Kandhamal. 

Lauding the government’s role in setting up a robust baseline for the success of strawberry farming, Jyotsna Pradhan, the community resource person of SHG ‘Jihaba Shakti’ in Raikia block of Kandhamal, says, “Each member of my two SHGs earns Rs 3000 to Rs 5000 in every two days only because of government.” 

(Niroj Ranjan Misra a Cuttack-based freelance writer. He writes on rural and tribal life, social issues, art and culture, and sports)

Also Read: How this Punjab farmer makes a profit of Rs 5 lakh per acre from strawberry farming

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