In the Recipe for Revival series, R. Murthy, a progressive farmer in Kodaikanal and president of the Flower Growers’ Association of Tamil Nadu, and former member of the National Horticulture Board and High-Power Committee (Floriculture), Tamil Nadu, discusses the huge potential in Kodaikanal hill and opportunities for cultivating smart food.
When you think of Kodaikanal, salubrious climate, mist-covered cliffs, cloud-capped peaks and the beautiful lake automatically come to your mind. There is another face to the princess of hills. It has high potential, still largely untapped, to improve nutritious value, enhance the livelihood of poor farmers and offer energy-rich food to the world.
Besides tourism and hospitality, Kodaikanal offers a wide range of opportunities in agriculture. Effective utilisation of its potential and grabbing opportunities will enhance economy, reduce imports, boost exports and uplift poor and marginalized on the hill. Especially, mountain agriculture will double farmers’ income and improve the overall rural economy of the hill station, Murthy says.
According to a global report, one-tenth of the global population lives in mountains and hills, mostly poor and marginalized ones. Kodaikanal is no exception to it. Kodaikanal farmers grow potato, hill banana, garlic, plums, pear, carrot, coffee, pepper, beans and orange. Income from these crops is low and uncertain, mostly insufficient to meet their production cost even.
Mr. Murthy explains: “You will be surprised to know that Kodaikanal is ideal for producing highly remunerative and export-oriented crops such as red and green apples, saffron, walnut, almond, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and broccoli. These are nutritionally dense, climate-smart, economically viable and locally adaptable crops. Conducive climate, good rain and sufficient sunlight are ideally suitable to grow these smart foods in Kodaikanal.
“For example, saffron grows well in upper Kodaikanal. We had proved it in 2015 itself. I had raised saffron on my farm. Flowering was good. Taste and flavour are also fine. Indian Council of Agriculture Research had offered saffron seeds. No other hill station in Tamil Nadu has such a huge potential in the country. The ICAR in Kashmir had tried saffron in Jammu and Himachal Pradesh. It could not succeed. But we did it in Kodaikanal. Farmers in Kozukkumalai in Theni district too succeeded in 2017.”
Saffron cultivation area in Kashmir has shrunk from 5,000 hectares to 3,000 hectares in the last two decades. Severe drought, shortage of irrigation, growing urbanisation and commercial pressures on the prime saffron land are major reasons. Many saffron growers have shifted to apple. The Centre had allotted Rs.1,000 crore to develop saffron in Leh and Ladakh regions. Still, saffron production fell by 68.15 per cent owing to dry spell last year. They face climate constraints. Harvesting must be completed before snowfall in November, Mr. Murthy says.
But there is no snowfall in Kodaikanal. “We have only frost in winter. Kodaikanal has six to eight hours of sunlight and sufficient rain suitable for this most expensive spice. The market price for one gram of top grade saffron can vary between Rs 300 to Rs.500. Kodai has high potential to promote saffron and its expansion.”
Compared to other hill stations in the country, Kodaikanal has substantial advantages such as vast underdeveloped land area, diversified agro-climatic conditions high topology diversity and agro climate.
According to him, blue and blackberries have high export potential. South and North American countries and Europe import large quantities of blue and blackberries. Small countries like Morocco and Chile export blueberries to South America and Russia respectively. Nature has proved that Kodaikanal is ideal to grow berries. Astonishingly, they grow in the wild on upper Kodaikanal. One can see wild berry plantations in 50 km stretch up to Klavarai and Vadakavunji and on the roadside near Berijam. “We need government and scientists’ support to make berries a commercial crop.”
Similarly, green and red apples too grow well on upper Kodaikanal. “Scientists tried apple in Ooty. But they failed owing to unsuitable micro-level climate. Kodaikanal has a diverse climate at different elevations. Compared to other hill stations in the country, Kodaikanal has substantial advantages such as vast underdeveloped land area, diversified agro-climatic conditions high topology diversity and agro climate.”
Kodaikanal requires much more attention of the Central and State governments, need special new policies, framework and strategies, infrastructure development to utilise its full potential thereby improve the livelihood of farming communities. Better access to technology, financial support and sophisticated technology and knowledge sharing remain major challenges. Moreover, farmers face several constraints such as inaccessibility, limited infrastructure and distant markets. These issues should be addressed.
Knowledge sharing among farmers is a must to promote such crops. For example, one has to order well in advance through e-mail to buy apple saplings from ICAR, Kashmir. They will allot saplings based on demand in February. Many farmers do not know such details. Support is needed for small landholders.
Mountain agriculture initiative has been a prime component of the Food and Agriculture Organisation for poverty reduction, hunger eradication, food insecurity and malnutrition since 2018, he recalls. Mountain agriculture alone can produce a large variety of nutritious foods. Kodaikanal is ideal for such development. It needs effective multi-sectoral prioritisation, interdisciplinary engagement and private and public investment for sustainable development to tap its huge potential.