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Thursday, April 14, 2016

UMLAKRO FARM – Model for Sustainable Horticulture Tourism Development

                                                                                                            -C.S.Shabong

A View of Umlakro Farm at Jirang, Ri-bhoi District

During the British rule when Meghalaya was part of undivided Assam, Khasi Mandarin Oranges were reported to be growing in abundance in the hill tract under Jirang C&RD Block of Ri-Bhoi district. However, lack of adoption of scientific procedure for cultivation and management practices caused poor productivity and these trees began to decrease vigorously thus leading to citrus decline and dieback. The District Horticulture Office begun to explore ways and means how to regain back the past glories and today Umlakro Farm has emerged as a model of sustainable horticulture development combining modern hitech horticulture technology with horti-tourism.

The genesis of this story took roots when the Department of Agriculture was gifted 7 hectares of land from the Syiem of Jirang and his Durbar in the year 2004, with the expectation that the land could be used for the overall development and upliftment of agriculture in the region under Jirang C&RD Block.

During 2009, this land was transferred to the Directorate of Horticulture to develop but it was only in 2012 that the office of the District Horticulture officer, Ri-Bhoi could start work on the project for setting up a horticulture farm. Thus Umlakro farm was created to not only re-nurture Khasi Mandarins, but also to experiment with other citrus varieties like Nagpur Orange, Assam Lemon, Sweet Orange. The farm also aims to provide farmers of the district with high quality seeded and budded plants. Furthermore, the farm will also facilitate students of Horticulture to conduct in-depth study on the functional, productivity, efficiency and a holistic understanding of oranges, mandarins and lemon. Students will also be able to learn from the farm through hands on approach which will enhance their personal development.

In the past, the life of a farmer is dictated by the weather gods -when the rain god, the sun god, the god of the earth are favourable on them, the farmer can begin to rejoice and thank the heavens for their season’s harvest. But apparently all the rituals practiced by our farmers and their sacrifices have become futile with the changing time and technology has taken over many aspects of farming. With the aim of bringing development closer to the people in the villages, creating basic infrastructure to provide gainful employment opportunities for the people and empower them so that they may have the liberty to work as employers rather than employees, the Directorate of Horticulture released fund of Rs. 6.25 lakhs for developing basic infrastructure construction of shade  house, overhead water tank and land development to develop Umlakro as a model horticulture farm.

A Birds Eye View of the Farm 
Furthermore, after conducting adequate studies on the land, soil and climate of the area, the horticulture development officer in-charge of the farm opted to raise mother plants in order to  produce quality planting materials of different citrus crops  such  as  the famed Khasi Mandarin, Assam Lemon, Sweet Orange etc. The Office began to treat Umlakro Farm as a future hub which would provide quality planting  materials  to neighbouring  villages and  their  farmers.  A model Floriculture Centre was also set up during the year 2013-2014 as the area was found suitable for the cultivation of flowers such as Dendrobium, Phalaenopsis and Blue Vanda.

Before these intervention by the District Horticulture Office Nongpoh, Jirang was known for  widespread jhum cultivation practices broom grass cultivation  and timber logging. The forests in the State are major carbon sinks and home to agro-biodiversity which needs to be protected  adequately. Jhum cultivation leads to removal of tons of biomass, higher rate of run-off of rainwater leading to drinking water shortage and even drought.

Today the farm has managed to integrate horti-tourism elements alongside establishment of modern nurseries for citrus, poly houses, mother blocks, hi tech green houses, water harvesting structures, power generators, vermi compost units, root stock blocks etc.  

(The Writer works as Assistant Director of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture Meghalaya and can be reached at csshabong@gmail.com)

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