Coca Cola's CSR initiative in high density farming can make India self-sufficient in apple production

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Like many farmers in Uttarakhand, 35 year-old woman farmer from Champawat district Devaki Devi was sceptical of adopting a high density plantation of new apple varieties in mid-altitude range of 1,000-1,500 metres above sea level and that too in just five nali (10,800 square feet) area.

  For years, Devi had been growing vegetables in her small piece of land but decided to shift to apple cultivation after seeing fellow farmers getting better yields and returns.

  She took training in HDP (High Density Plantation) from the 'Unnati apple project', a CSR intervention of Coca Cola India along with Bhimtal-based Indo Dutch Horticulture Technologies and G B Pant University Of Agriculture and Technology.

  With technical and financial support from the Unnati project, Devi planted 250 apple saplings of 'Gala mema' and 'Red Delicious' varieties in five nali areas in 2021.

  In the traditional method, apple trees are planted at a distance of 5-7 metres, whereas in the HDP method it is done at every one metre.

  "Apple fruits are typically ready for harvest in August. But much to my surprise in HDP, the varieties that I planted the fruits were ready for picking in July itself. I got 5-6 kg yield per tree in the first year itself," Devi said.

  Devi sold apples at Rs 150 per kilogram and got a better price as her crop hit the market a month in advance. She earned nearly Rs 1.80 lakh in the first year itself. Devi is now waiting to harvest next month with a yield as high as 10-15 kilogram per tree.

  For 57-year-old Madan Singh, a traditional apple farmer, growing apple trees at mid-altitude and getting the crop in 12 months after the planting was unbelievable until he tried his hands on five nali areas under the Unnati project.

  In traditional methods, it is difficult to get a crop for harvesting even after six years but in HDP method it was possible to get the crop from second year onwards with yields expected to go up to 50 kg per tree from fifth year, which is unimaginable, he added.

  Due to early maturity and better returns, many farmers in Uttarakhand are taking up this new method of apple cultivation.

  About 700-odd acres of apple orchards have already been developed since the launch of the Unnati apple project in 2018 in the state, Coca-Cola INSWA, CSR and Sustainability Senior Manager Aditya Panda said.

  Not only in Uttarakhand, the new method is also being promoted in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, where 300 acres of apple orchards have come up under the Unnati project, he said.

  The target is to achieve 20,000 acres in three states.

  The Unnati apple project was initiated in Uttarakhand solely because the productivity in the state was low at 3-4 tonnes per hectare per annum, half the nation's average productivity, despite favourable climate and vast available land for greenfield apple cultivation," Panda said.

  Since farmers were shy of making upfront investment required to establish modern HDP apple orchards of highest global standards, the company subsidised and set up demo farms at their places. Along with planting material, drip irrigation, trellis support structure with four wire support, perforated weed mulching, hail net and fencing material are being provided at subsidised rates.

  To ensure well-being of farmer communities, improve yields and propagate judicious use of natural resources, Coca Cola India partnered with Indo Dutch Horticulture Technologies (IDHT) as its implementation partner in Uttarakhand.

  IDHT is the biggest and leading producer of high density apple plant nursery in India. It has been key in supplying the right planting material to farmers.

  "With a five times increase in yield expected from HDP apple orchards, there is potential to make the country self-sufficient in apple production. This will also help in reverse migration and provide employment to youth in hilly states," Indo-Dutch Horticulture Technologies (IDHT) Director Sudhir Chadha said.

  A total of 2 lakh hectare is under apple cultivation in India, out of which 10,000 hectare in Uttarakhand.

  "We import about 4 lakh tonnes annually. Bringing 5,000 to 8,000 hectare under the HDP model is sufficient to make import substitute in the next five years," he said.

  'Gala mema', 'Gala Schinico Red' , 'King Roat and 'Golden Parsi Da Rosa' are some of the high yielding varieties which Chadha has developed by grafting apple trees on rootstock imported from The Netherlands and Italy.

  These apple varieties can be grown in mid-altitude range and the research is underway to grow HDP apples in plains as well, he said.

  Chadha, a pioneer in the high density apple plantation in India, is conducting research in HDP apples at an experimental field of 10,000 acres given on lease for 10 years by G B Pant University Of Agriculture and Technology, which is a knowledge partner of Unnati Apple Project.

  According to Shivendra Kashyap, Dean, College of Agriculture at G B Pant University Of Agriculture and Technology, "We are doing research in some fruits, not in apples. Chadha' HDP method has potential to change the way apples are cultivated not only in Uttarakhand but in other hilly states."

  Coca Cola India has capped the subsidy for setting up an HDP apple orchard in five nali areas. The subsidy varies for three states. Farmers, however, can expand their orchards at their own cost.

  Besides apples, the company is working with farmers to boost production of mango, orange, grapes, litchi and priority commodities like sugarcane in 11 states under the Unnati project, which is part of the company's 'Fruit Circular Economy'.
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