-By Bary Syiem *
Meghalaya, the land of hynñiew trep and hynñiew skhum is blessed with a variety of agro-climatic conditions favoring cultivation of different types of horticultural crops like fruits, vegetables, flowers etc. The natural vegetation profile ranges from tropical to temperate type and indeed, Meghalaya can appropriately be classed as a Horticulture state.
Under this climatic variation, the state harbors an enormous diversity of plants both domesticated and wild, with an impressive variety of habitats and an ecosystem which is a treasure house where future economy can be sustained.
|Sohiong wine being promoted in the Indigenous Plant Festival during 2010|
Meghalaya is also the home of many indigenous species of fruit plants which may not be found anywhere else in the world. The horticultural wealth of the state in terms of fruit plants includes Peach, Plum, Pear, Pineapple, Banana, Sohphie, Sohiong, Sohshang, Sohphoh Khasi, Sohlang, Sohbrap etc.
The credibility of Horticulture in this state has indeed been established beyond doubt in improving productivity of land, generating employment and also improving the economic conditions of the farmers and entrepreneurs of the state. But the true potential of horticulture can be reached only through effective diversification of its horticultural strength in terms of value addition to horticultural products, capitalizing on market monopoly of our indigenous fruits and their products, popularization and commercialization of indigenous fruits, plants, indigenous herbs and medicinal plants etc. Constraints in the horticulture sector no doubt exist in terms of marketing facilities, lack of infrastructure, poor management system, inadequate institutional mechanism to support horticulture development as per changing trends etc. Some of these constraints are being addressed by the Directorate of Horticulture through various new schemes and their extension machineries, and as a result, the farmers are able to take up cultivation of horticultural crops on a larger scale thereby enabling them to improve on the production of horticultural commodities.
Despite these achievements, there exists a wide gap between the potential and the actual realization. With increasing population and requirements, diversification of horticultural products has to take place. This will encourage the farmers and will act as an incentive to increase production of various fruits.
As we know, horticulture produce are highly perishable in nature but over the years, the people of Meghalaya have found many uses for the many varieties of fruits growing here besides enjoying them for table purposes. These include making jams, jellies, squash, and juices to name a few. Looking towards the future people can now exploit the age old hobby of wine making. This trend which certain NGO,s are encouraging through the Wine Festivals etc, takes full advantage of the rich fruit resources of our state. Some of the home-made wines that were showcased last year included; Sohiong wine, Sohbrap (passion fruit) wine, Sohlang wine, Plum wine, Pineapple wine, Pear wine and a variety of enticing combinations such as Sohmon with Sohiong wine. This hobby could grow gradually as a cottage industry and then commercialized into an industry, which would automatically boost the economy of the state.
If fruit production, especially our indigenous fruits, is encouraged, this will provide wine makers with a larger selection. And as wine making gains popularity, fruit farmers will have a better market for their harvest. For instance, when the fruit market is saturated during a particularly good season, many farmers lose much of their profit and product due to inability to sell before the fruit is over ripe. However, if wine makers become viable customers, the farmer would have a market for his fruit.
It is sincerely hoped that Shillong wine festival and other indigenous fruit festival will help create awareness not only on the art of wine making but also its commercial potential as an industry which will in turn encourage the farming community to grow more fruit trees and thereby realize the full horticulture potential of our state with an economy to match.
(The writer is Agriculture Information Officer, Directorate of Agriculture, Meghalaya and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)