Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district, which has been infamous for Naxal violence, is turning out to be a custard apple production hub thereby transforming lives of villagers, particularly tribals, of the region.
Located in northern part of Bastar division, Kanker, around 150 kms away from here, has recorded a huge production of roughly 6,000 tonnes of custard apple (popularly known in Hindi as ‘sitaphal’) this year, as per local officials.
“Although, thousands of farmers in the district have been traditionally involved in the collection and sale of Sitafal, but it was in an unorganised manner and therefore they failed to reap profit from the fruit,” Kanker Collector Shammi Abidi told PTI.
In a unique initiative by the district administration that could well serve as a model for villages across the country, the village womenfolk, traditionally involved in collection and selling of Sitaphal fruit, were brought together in an organised manner and trained in efficient collection and effective marketing so that they could get the best possible returns on the produce without being exploited at the hands of middlemen.
More than 900 members of FPC (forest protection committees) and SHGs (self help groups) are intensely involved in the project and about 4,000 farmers are directly benefited through this initiative. As on October 30 this year, 20,278 boxes (each containing 1.5 kg) of custard apple were sold at the average selling rate of Rs 60 per box, earning a profit of Rs 30 per box, the collector said.
Besides, pulp extraction and its preservation through anti-browning technology is also being done by setting up 10 pulping centres in the district. So far, 3,165 kgs of pulp has been extracted by producer groups which is priced at Rs 200 per kg, leading to a profit of Rs 140 per kg, she said. At least 155 farmers are involved in direct marketing of fruits in Raipur and Durg/Bhilai, she pointed out.
Giving details on how the project was conceived, Abidi said earlier, the tribals who collect custard apples – a highly perishable fruit with low shelf life – sold it at a throwaway price of Rs 4 per kg to the ‘kochias’ (middle men) or at the local markets.
Subsequently, the district administration took up the project last year on experimental basis to mobilise the farmers and assist them in scientific upkeep of trees bearing this fruit and better marketing.
They were made aware of different avenues of the fruit marketing and, over and above, establishing a brand in the name of ‘Kanker Valley Fresh’ custard apple, she said.