Pushed by Covid crisis, 2 tribal youths grow apples in Tripura

Hit by the financial crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, two tribal youths in Tripura have scripted a ‘fruitful’ story hither to unheard in the northeastern state – growing apples of a different variety.

Mujesh Debbarma (29) and his relative Samaresh Debbarma (41) have cultivated four varieties of apple on a hilly terrain measuring a little over one hectare in Borkur Bari tribal village in western Tripura’s Sepahijala district.

Mujesh said that the apples from their gardens are expected to hit the market for the first time in June-July this year.

“If we are able to do some business, we would extend the apple cultivation to more areas,” Mujesh told IANS.

Mujesh and Samaresh first started cultivating the HRMN-99 variety of apple during the lockdown last year. Subsequently, they procured saplings of three more varieties from Kolkata by spending around Rs 2 lakh.

Unlike most apples which grow in areas that receive substantial snowfall, the HRMN-99 variety, a special type of apple developed by the ‘Apple Man’ of Himachal Pradesh, Hariman Sharma, can be grown in low altitudes and is suited to a relatively warm climate. Still, growing apples in the northeast remains a rare phenomenon.

According to the officials of the Tripura Horticulture Department, the duo’s efforts have unfolded a new chapter in apple cultivation, not just in Tripura, but in the entire northeastern region comprising eight states.

“During the lockdown, we saw some videos on YouTube of growing hybrid varieties of apple in Rajasthan. Then we thought if apples can be grown in Rajasthan in high tropical atmosphere, why not in Tripura?

“We then contacted Hariman Sharma over phone, and he guided us on a number of occasions on how to go about with apple cultivation. Sharma Sir even couriered us 50 saplings last year, for which he didn’t charge a single penny,” Mujesh said.

After tasting success with HRMN-99, Mujesh and Samaresh are now also growing other varieties of apples, such as Anna, Dorsett and Golden, after procuring saplings from Kolkata.

Mujesh said that so far they have spent over Rs 5 lakh in planting around 250 apple trees of four varieties after developing the suitable shape in their land comprising small hillocks and a valley in the Borkur Bari tribal village, around 40 km south of Agartala.

Like thousands of other tribals in the region, Mujesh and Samaresh were involved in rubber plantations before switching over to apple farming.

Appreciating the enterprising efforts of the duo, Anjan Sen Gupta, a senior scientific officer at the Biotechnology Department of Tripura government, said that the first ever apple cultivation in Tripura is a unique and pioneering initiative taken up by the two tribal youth.

“Amtali near Borkur Bari, where the duo is cultivating apples, is a government-sponsored bio village. We have provided the duo with bio-fertilisers and other materials for their orchards, which are helping them a lot,” Sen Gupta told IANS.

Officials from the Biotechnology Department have helped the growers through regular monitoring and guidance on a range of issues, including prevention of pest infestation.

Sen Gupta said that of the 250 trees planted by Mujesh and Samaresh, some 40-60 have blossomed and around 15 have bore fruits, two weeks after flowering.

“Due to the different types of apple varieties and climatic conditions, sweetness of the fruit might be a tad less,” the official pointed out.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)