Growing demand for strawberries in domestic market

Written by Nanda Kasabe | Pune | Updated: Feb 18 2012, 06:38am hrs
With the production of strawberries in the Panchagani-Mahabaleshwar belt expected to touch 16,000-18,000 tonne this season as against 14,000-15,000 tonne in the last season, the growers of the fruit in the region have decided to focus on the domestic market.

The Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar belt contributes around 85% of the total production in the country. The rest comes from Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

Around 50% of the produce is consumed by tourists. Mumbai and Pune are big markets. However, demand is growing from new markets such as Chennai, Bangalore and Goa where containers are being sent on a daily basis, Strawberry Growers Association, chairman, Babasaheb Bhilare said. Since strawberry is a perishable product, it is very difficult to reach far-off markets, he explained. At present, around 20 tonne is sent to Bangalore, 10-15 tonne to Chennai and another 10 tonne find their way to markets in Goa. The strawberry season begins from November and lasts till March every year.

Although export markets seem very attractive, it is very difficult to

conform to their regulations since farmers here face challenges of erratic climatic conditions and rising labour costs,

Bhilare said.

A pilot consignment was sent to two to three countries a couple of years ago but these containers had to be diverted elsewhere since they could not meet the pesticide residue norms, he said, without disclosing details.

The farmers in the region had also seen what had happened when farmers in Nashik had attempted to export grapes but found their containers being rejected for pesticide residues and therefore decided to keep away. Even

if the association members advised farmers to avoid using pesticides, he was forced to do so because of unseasonal rains or colder climate, Bhilare explained.

Around 1,700 to 1,800 acres come under strawberry production in the country and 1,500-odd farmers are into its cultivation.

Bhilare pointed out that farmers were facing challenges owing to rising input costs and rising labor costs. Labour costs have gone up double fold in the past year and it

becomes difficult for farmers to sustain this crop, he said.

Therefore the acreage under cultivation is expected to go up by a modest 100 acres next year,

he added.

The association is attempting to create more awareness about strawberries through festivals and one such festival will be held in Pune from February 18 to February 20. Similar festivals will be held in Bhilar- the main crop region and Mapro Gardens in Panchgani to woo tourists.