Punjab’s kinnow farmers maximise yield, profit amidst pandemic

Punjab’s kinnow farmers maximise yield, profit amidst pandemic

Punjab’s kinnow farmers maximise yield, profit amidst pandemic

While the pandemic posed serious challenges to farmers across the country, kinnow farmers in Abohar, Punjab managed to increase their yield and profits during in period.


Dehradun: It was a few decades ago that the town of Abohar gained the title, ‘California of Punjab’. It came to be known thus for its rich soil, good irrigation sources, and striking production of kinnow  a high-yield mandarin hybrid that resembles an orange but is a tad smaller. The kinnow was introduced in the state in the late 1980s, but its popularity has grown over the recent years.

While the current pandemic has had a negative impact on most economic activities, including agriculture, for the kinnow farmers of Punjab, the last few years have actually been profitable. The rising demand for kinnow, owing to its medicinal properties, has proved to be a game-changer for the farmers and fruit suppliers in Abohar. The last year was particularly profitable for the farmers due to the pandemic-induced increase in demand and prices of citrus fruits.  


All about kinnow

A typical kinnow tree takes up to five years to bear fruit, post which it bears fruit once a year. An acre of land can host around 90 well-spaced kinnow trees. An average mature tree by the age of 10 years produces up to 100 kg of fruit per harvest per year. According to experts, even if 0.01 per cent of flowers translate into fruit in a year, it is considered a good harvest. 


A good kinnow crop, if supported by climatic factors such as rain much before the flowering, can yield a profit of up to 1.5 lakh per acre for the farmers. However, the cultivation process is both time and investment intensive as it requires treatment against insects as well as the intervention of fertilisers for a high yield. A good quality sapling can cost up to Rs 100 per plant. 


The Indian Kinnow Mandarin is an interspecific hybrid crop that was developed at the University of California by H. B. Frost in 1915 and released in 1935. 


In the mid-1950s, the Indian government extensively promoted citrus cultivation, especially in semi-arid zones, among the farmers in Punjab. And it was in the 1980s when kinnow made its entry into Punjab. Now, even organic cultivation of the fruit is gaining momentum in the region. "During the initial years of its introduction, the lack of awareness about kinnow didn't result in a market linkage and the fruit droppings used to be considered as a waste," informed Surinder Pal Singh, a 60-year-old kinnow farmer from Dhingawali village of Abohar, who is popularly known as ‘Organic Singh’ among his customers. He is a pioneer in the region in certifying his fields as organic.


Singh's orchards have been around since 1953 and are now being run by the fourth generation of his family. Around 60 acres of his orchards have kinnow as the majority citrus crop. "We sell our certified organic kinnow at a price of 40-45 Rs/kg while the non-organic one is sold at an average price of 10-12 Rs/kg," said Singh. 

Surinder 'Organic Singh' Pal with local buyers in his Kinnow orchards (Picture sourced by Mani Mahesh Arora)


Marginal farmers enter the market

In Abohar, up until a year or so ago, only farmers with lands as big as 40-50 acres and above would commit to this time and investment intensive crop. But now kinnow is being grown by even marginal farmers with lands as small as three acres. 


In the Bazidpur Bhoma village of Abohar, some afore-abandoned farmlands can now be seen as green zones flourishing with kinnow orchards. Additionally, lands that hold the potential for kinnow cultivation are also seeing a spike in their lease as well as selling prices.


Some farmers are already setting up cold storage units for the profit-yielding kinnow droppings, which have an average shelf-life of up to 20 days, which is lesser than its contemporary orange. Orange has a shelf-life of up to two months without a cold-storage facility. 

High demand Punjab and Haryana, along with a few belts of Rajasthan, contribute to the country's majority kinnow production. In 2020, IANS reported that kinnow worth Rs 30 crore was purchased from the growers in these three states. Among all the pockets, Abohar is said to produce up to 65 per cent of the fruit with around 33,000 hectares under its plantation. 


The farmers selling kinnow at Rs 10-15/kg in 2020, witnessed a doubling of the prices to Rs 25-30/kg in 2021. According to some farmers, this year, even as the fruit was not ripe and self-aborted, it was procured to be transported mostly to commercial buyers, including juice and other processing businesses.


In the last decade, Abohar has witnessed a significant international demand of kinnow, owing to its medicinal use, from Russia, the USA, Maldives, Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. India manages to export 25 per cent of its kinnow production to some of these countries. The export prices for even premature droppings have gone up to as high as Rs 60/kg for non-certified organic kinnow.


Some of the Abohar-based suppliers claim that the demand has been more than the production and supply capacity, and most of the region's produce ends up being consumed and supplied in India. 


Aman Sharma, an Abohar-based farmer who has been growing kinnow in his 16 acres of land for the last 13 years, recently started his nationwide wholesale supply chain. He argues that the increased supply of kinnow is mainly due to the lack of production of its contemporary citrus fruit, the orange. 


"The challenge with kinnow export in India remains the lack of an effective sea-linkage for this low shelf-life fruit. Due to its sea-link advantage, Pakistan has taken a lead and exports around 90 per cent of its kinnow, worldwide," shared Aman. 

A kinnow tree (top) and workers packing kinnow at a supply store in Abohar (Picture credit: Aman Sharma)


Ecological sustainability

With the intervention of modern irrigation techniques such as drip-system, kinnow during its initial years of plantation consumes around 90 per cent less water than the conventional water-guzzling wheat-paddy crop cycle prevalent in most of Punjab.


Even a mature kinnow tree of 10 years consumes 30 per cent less water than the conventional cropping in the region, which requires flooding of the fields by pumping excessive groundwater from deep levels. Moreover, kinnow trees require less chemical intervention than the infamous wheat and paddy, which were introduced as cash crops during the Green Revolution.


"Another factor adding to the sustainability as well as the profitability of kinnow is that by the time a tree produces the fruit, which is four to five years, farmers can intercrop the tree with vegetables and legumes to generate income while improving the efficiency of the soil in the process," stated Dr Maharaj Krishan Kaul, horticulture consultant at Surinder Jakhar IFFCO Trust in Abohar.


Since Kinnow is a hybrid crop, Dr Kaul suggested not developing a complete dependency on a single fruit. "We need to diversify the crops by also growing and promoting other citrus fruits such as Malta and different varieties of orange," he added. 


Despite the surge in profits, some of the challenges with kinnow cultivation remain lack of direct market linkage for most marginal farmers, unavailability of rapid transportation, and dearth of trained labour to handle the fruit carefully, especially during packaging and transportation. 

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