- The urgency for an alternative –
Source: “Footprints 2009″ – Manipur Pineapple Festival Souvenir
By Soizalal H Thangjom*
The need for an alternative:
The practice of Jhum cultivation is synonymous with the Hill areas of Manipur. In fact, Jhum cultivation is as old as the human civilisation in the hill area itself. In the process, large forest lands, the reservoir of flora and fauna, are cut down each year for cultivation of local paddy. Vast areas of forest covered lands are laid barren and the trees as cut down are burned down which induce the soil to become more fertile and more productive.
Another agent of forest destruction emerges in the form of Timber merchants and wood dealers. Big time merchants are making heavy in-roads into the deep, exploiting the forest by massive felling down of the greens. These capitalistic merchants are literally changing the town of the hills for commercial gain. If the present trend is of any indication, it will not be long before the state is completely deprived of this forest wealth. The ensuing environmental and ecological impact would be horrible, given the present situation of global warming. It is high time now that the State Government acts its part and does its best to control this greedy exploitation of forest wealth.
One step in the right direction should be diligently searched for an alternative to jhum cultivation. Of the very few alternatives available, pineapple cultivation presents the most prospective and most enduring. Mention may be made here of the successful cultivation of pineapple in the Khousabung area of Churachandpur district. It has been, to date, five decades now since the first pineapple sucker was planted with an annual outlay of 90 lac pineapple.
In its initial stage, pineapple was cultivated for domestic consumption only. But in due course, planters began to realise its economic prospect as it has a ready market where it can be traded profitably on day to day basis. This awakening about the economic value of pineapple took a grip over the area due to three primary reasons: One, it can be an apt substitute for Jhum farming. Secondly, income generated from pineapple cultivation can meet daily expenses. Thirdly, Pineapple money could buy their children’s education within and without the state.
At present, there are more than 400 farmers in Khousabung area engaged in pineapple cultivation with annual production of 90 lac pineapples and market rate of ragged at five rupees a fruit, the profitability of the trade can be comprehended by simple mathematics.
A case for pineapple cultivation is advocated by the fact that the fertile soil of the area is suitable for pineapple cultivation on a mass scale. Pineapple comes in two varieties in Manipur – Kew and Queen Pineapples. The former pertains to Churachandpur district while the later to Imphal East. As of now, there are about 700 acres of land devoted to pineapple. The necessity to encourage cultivators by equipping them with modern infrastructure cannot be overstated as pineapple cultivation is an alternative industry to jhum cultivation. To put this message across, the Manipur Pineapple Festival Committee organised the first state level festival in August 2008.
The obvious challenge for the cultivators is marketing. Pineapple, being a perishable product, needs all sorts of care and concern at all levels. In the absence of reliable fruit processing technique and storage facility, the loss in the form of wastage attains monstrosity. Of all the horticultural produces, pineapple suffers the heaviest casualty due to wastage for want of proper storage.
Closely related to marketing problem is the lack of transportation facility. Transportation is a major problem faced by pineapple growers. Without proper storage, fast and timely movement of produces from the fields to the market is the need of the hour.
Pineapple cultivation can be an alternative to shifting cultivation. Moreover, it can limit the massive destruction of forest wealth. The government should encourage the hill people to grow pineapple on a larger scale in order to preserve forest wealth. This will wean them away from Jhum subsistence. In the history of pineapple cultivation, failure of fruits has been rarely experienced.
Pineapple takes three years to bear fruit. After this phase, it continues to produce fruits continuously for the rest 20 years with proper nursing. This initial three years is the crucial stage where all kinds of investment – materials, finance and know-how – are desperately needed by the farmers. The ball, without question, rests in the government’s court.
[Soizalal H Thangzom is a retired ZEO. He is the Chairman of the Manipur Pineapple Festival Committee, Manipur]