Fruits of labour

4 Apr 2008

(Kushtagi, a small town in Koppal district, has carved a niche in the global map for the bhagawa breed of pomegranates it cultivates. These fruits are now reaching markets in Germany, changing farmers lives. Chamaraj Savadi reports.)

This is the unusual story of an ordinary farmer Devendrappa Balutagi, who exports his pomegranates to the distant land of Germany from the arid region of Kushtagi, a small taluk town of Koppal district in North Karnataka. The bhagawa breed of pomegranate, cultivated in the taluk, is being exported to Germany now. The export is likely to bring back smiles on the faces of pomegranate growers of this region, which was notorious for its regular droughts.

It may be mentioned here that the farmers in the region had taken up pomegranate cultivation following continuous drought, which failed their regular crops like jowar, maize and some coarse millet.This miracle was possible with the use of Information Technology and the help of some good hearted officers of the state Horticulture Department.

Devendrappa Balutagi, a farmer of Kushtagi said, “This year, I have received a better yield of pomegranate. The fruits have better weight and quality. I had incurred heavy losses in the past due to lack of water. However, this time around, there is some profit. I hope to do better in the coming years.”

He has cultivated the bhagawa breed of pomegranates in an area of eight acres. The four-year-old plants have borne healthy fruits. Devendrappa is exporting the fruit to Germany through a private seed company, which earlier persuaded him to grow fruit trees instead of traditional crops. The change worked well.

It all started some eight years ago. Fed up with regular crop failures due to recurring droughts, many farmers of Kushtagi were thinking of selling their ancestral land and taking up some other profession. Then they read an article published in a Kannada newspaper which stated that regions of Koppal, Bijapur, Bagalkot and Gulbarga districts of North Karnataka can produce good quality fruits such as grapes, pomegranates, lemon, plantains, etc.

While thinking over this piece of information, a private seed company came to their aid, assuring required technical aid and possible export to foreign countries, provided the yield was of good quality.

With their help, many farmers of Kushtagi, including Devendrappa Balutagi, switched over to pomegranate, which was suitable to their land and weather condition. First two years, nothing much happened. By the third year, they started getting good yield and along with it came the first taste of success. Their pomegranates immediately attracted the markets of cities like Bangalore, Goa, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad.

This enthused the private seed company to send them to foreign markets like Dubai, London, Paris and Berlin. The market responded well. With the introduction of internet and the improvement of highways, farmers of Kushtagi formed their own society, which directly communicated with foreign markets and reaped rich dividends.

In due course of time, Devendrappa Balutagi and members of his pomegranate growers' society learned how to grow good fruits, pack them well, maintain time schedules and ensure better trade relations. For this purpose, some of them even learnt the English language and the use of computers, to be able to send e-mails and maintain proper accounts.

Their modus operandi is quite simple. Leaving the sophisticated task of communicating with foreign firms to their society, most farmers concentrate on field work. They strive hard to maintain quality right from the planting stage. After the trees start bearing fruits, they are being stored in mobile storage containers in Kushtagi from where they are sent to Mumbai for exporting. The fruits reach Germany after 24 days via sea route from Mumbai.

“We are doing everything possible to ensure that the fruits remain fresh. They are generally sold within three days in Germany,” said Mr Basavaraj, the regional manager of a private seed company. Farmers get their payment through DD within 10 days of their export. Now the farmers in Kushtagi are better equipped in handling natural calamities, including uncertain monsoon. The right use of information has definitely changed their lives.

- Chamaraj Savadi

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