Last fortnight I had one of my most memorable trips to one our pomegranate farms in Nashik near Maharashtra, India. En-route to the farms I captured the glimpse of rustic villages and their simple life which is slowing transforming by the touch of technology.
After travelling for few hours we stopped at a small local eatery to have light refreshments. The best part about Indian food is its flavour and diversity which you tend to get everywhere. I had a choice between ‘vada pav’ (a Maharashtrian snack, you can imagine it as an Indian burger) and ‘paratha’ (a flatbread, stuffed with spicy mixture). I chose paratha, but was advised to eat vada pav because it absorbs less oil as they are fried on the surface. This was an interesting discovery to me as I always thought Indian deep fried foods absorb excessive oil and thus calories. However the beauty of Indian deep frying mechanism is that the food is not required to be completely immersed in the oil for frying as surface frying facilitates the formation of crisp.
The pomegranate farms fascinated me the most. Awesome! It was the first word that struck me after I saw the exquisite sight of deep red poms, hanging precariously from the stems of pomegranate shrubs, ready for harvest. All excited, I started roaming around the farms. Intrigued by my apparent amazement, a farmer approached to have a talk with me. I too got interested when he started narrating facts-after-facts about pomegranate farming and the prized Bhagwa variety.
The Bhagwa variety of pomegranate is soft seeded, has extremely succulent taste and a rich, deep-red colour. This makes them far more superior to the ones grown in Spain, Israel and Iran from where it originated. It is also a highly relished fruit in Europe.
The farmer plucked one pomegranate from the nearby shrub for me to taste. It was absolutely farm fresh and weighed more than half a kilogram. I crack opened the pom and pulled a handful of luscious pomegranate arils, popped them into my mouth and munched them for a good time. Goodness, they were the most juicy and tasty pomegranate arils tasted in years.
The most noteworthy mention in our entire discussions was that of GAP (Good Agricultural Practices). It is a revolutionary farming system which has not only ensured that food is produced and handled with minimum contamination on the farms, but also increases the quality and yield, very cost effectively.
In addition to tying-up with GAP certified farmers and voluntarily following GAP for quite some time, Shimla Hills’ team has also been helping other farmers understand and implement the techniques of GAP. In fact, by following GAP, the yield of pomegranate has increased from usual benchmark of 15-18 kg to 20-25 kg from single shrub, which is remarkable.
The farmer explained to me further few parameters that made GAP such a huge success like the use of disease free and superior plant material of improved cultivars, timely adoption of IPM practices to control pests and diseases, maintaining proper load of fruits on the tree and integrating various other managements.
The new farming systems are forging a new beginning for farmers. These new systems are lending innovations that are reaping benefits and prosperity for their strenuous hard work. I was happy to find another farmer cultivating a fruit that was a hybrid of apple and Indian Jujube (also known as Ber, Chinee Apple, Jujube, Indian plum and Masau). Amazing, it was indeed a trip that I will cherish forever!