Off season production of litchi in South India for crop diversification and income enhancement of farmers
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Litchi has a special place among the fruits by virtue of it’s attractive colour and distinct taste. India ranks second in the world in production of Litchi production after China. In India, Litchi is grown in almost 83 thousand hectares of area with a production of 5.75 lakh metric tonnes. Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand are the major litchi growing states of the country. The litchi requires specific climate for flowering and fruiting. Thus its commercial cultivation is limited few states located in certain latitudes. In the northern states of India, litchi fruits mature in the months of May and June. Contrary to this, the litchi matures in the months of December and January in some of the non-traditional litchi growing regions of South India. Litchi is grown as home stead trees or as isolated trees in coffee plantations in parts of Coorg in Karnataka, Waynad in Kerala and Lower Puleny hills, Kallar and Burliar of Nilgiri hills and some parts of Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. The exact area of litchi in this region in not well known. As per estimated there are around 10,000 litchi trees in Coorg region of Karnataka. There are about 2000 plants of Litchi trees in Tamil Nadu. Some of the trees are more than 50 years old. These litchi trees produces flowers in the month of August –September and fruits mature in the month of December and January. These trees belong to Shahi, Rose Scented, Early Seedless, Dehradun, Shahi, Maclean, Green and Calcuttia varieties. The fruit quality is at par with the fruits come from Northern India but lack of suitable packages of practices and poor marketing are hurdles of popularization of off season litchi produced in these areas.
The survey of litchi cultivation in Coorg and Waynad areas revealed that more than 200 growers are growing litchi on a smaller scale with 1-10 trees in their gardens/plantation/back yard. But there are few farmers who have planted 1acre to 10 acres of litchi as intercrop with coffee. The performance of litchi trees shows that Coorg and Waynad areas has optimum climatic conditions for off season cultivation of litchi and it has a potential to become major crop in future not only for the domestic supply even for the export . The experiment conducted CHES (ICAR-IIHR), Chettalli revealed that Early Seedless, Dehradun, Shahi varieties of litchi are performing well. These varieties have higher TSS, smaller seed and lower acid content. Some grown up trees (15 years or more) at CHES Chettalli are yielding 1- 2 quintal fruits per tree every year. This station has few 55 - 60 years old trees which are yielding more than 3 quintals fruits per tree per year. Several growers in the region have started growing litchi successfully and some of the growers in Coorg have more than 50 year’s old plants. Among them, Mrs Devaiah, Madapur, Major Tims , Hakathur, Mrs. Prema Ganesh, Margod, Mr Ganapathy, Arecad, Mr Guru Dutt, Sunticoppa are noteworthy.
In Waynad district of Kerala, Mr. Kuruvilla Joseph, is successful litchi grower. He started planting of litchi and explore the off season benefits. His success in off season litchi production inspired lot of people in Wyanad to take cultivation of litchi through best practices and reap the benefits. Litchi matures in the months of November and December in Waynad. It has huge demand in the fruit markets, the fruits sold at cost of Rs. 200- 250 per kg at farm gate level. The average yield per tree is 200 to 500 kg depending upon the age of the plant. He sold litchi fruits in Bangalore, Cochin and Coimbatore markets. He faced the problem in marketing and then started own marketing channel and proper packing system. When fruit reaches directly to customer, they gave feedback about the quality and had lot satisfaction and further got more lucrative prices. The cost of production is high as compared to North India due to cost of nets etc for prevention of fruit damage from the bats, birds and squirrels.
To promote litchi in this area, CHES (ICAR-IIHR) Chettalli has supplied more than 10,000 litchi plants to the growers of Coorg during recent years. The station has more than 4 acres of litchi orchard comprising of more than 10 varieties. The station is regularly conducting field visits, training programmes and field day for exhibiting promising varieties and new technologies and discussing the prospectus of off litchi cultivation in this area. Though there are several concerns of litchi cultivation in this region such as irregular flowering, nutrient management, insect pest, bats, bird’s problems etc but the technological options available for solving these problems which are regularly discussed in various fora. Due to combined efforts and farmers interest, litchi cultivation is gaining popularity in this area and has potential for providing litchi during off season which certainly helps in crop diversification and income enhancement of farmers of these areas.