Agartala: Gone are the days when the Jampui Hills of Tripura would bask in the scenic golden terrains of its famous orange cultivation during peak seasons of the year. Farmers of the lush-green hills have now shifted to cultivation of areca nuts owing to their increasing popularity over the years.
However, more than the demand, locals were forced to cultivate areca nuts as an alternative after the once-famous orange farms were hit by a massive outbreak of dieback, a disease, especially of woody plants, that is characterised by progressive death of twigs, branches, shoots, or roots, starting at the tips.
Over time, despite efforts from authorities concerned to help farmers to go back to orange cultivation, most farmers have decided to stick to areca nuts, as they are making more profits out of them compared to oranges.
Speaking with EastMojo, HCCT Dawla, a retired school principal who lives at Vanghmun village of Jampui Hills, said that the shifting of orange to areca nut cultivation has happened over the past one decade.
Jampui Hills, known as the highest hill range of the state, is located in North Tripura district — about 205 km from state capital Agartala.
“About 250 families living in the village are either government employees or farmers dependent on cultivation of oranges. The farmers were forced to shift their orange plantation to areca nuts as they had to suffer heavy losses year after year when the decease spread across the Jampui Hills,” Dawla said.
The cultivation of oranges in Jampui Hills was started in late 1960s and soon it caught on. It gained widespread adoption after the oranges won several awards during fruit exhibitions outside the state, particularly in New Delhi, during the mid-1980s. Not surprisingly, people living across the hill started adopting orange cultivation on a bigger scale.
Another local, CL Mawai (48), said that after the outbreak of a disease called “dieback” in Jampui Hills, the trees slowly started to die and the plantation also decreased. The leaves of the plants started turning into yellow.
“A team of scientists from Nagpur had visited here to investigate into the reasons and find a solution for the sudden outbreak of the disease but nothing as such was found,” Mawai added.
When the cultivation decreased, the state government sought help from the National Research Centre for Citrus (NRCC) to produce disease-free orange, but no solution was found.
S Molsom (45), a farmer, said that they then found a good alternative in areca nuts.
“Earlier, we used to cultivate orange in the Jampui Hills and the profit after selling it in the market was quite less. But now, since we are cultivating areca nuts, the margin and profit rate is almost double than what it was during orange cultivation,” Molsom said.
Around 400 families are now engaged in the cultivation of areca nuts. A farmer who could earn around Rs 60,000 by selling oranges cultivated in one hectare of land, now earns at least Rs 1.5 lakh every year by cultivating areca nuts.
Speaking with EastMojo, superintendent of Horticulture Kanchanpur sub-division, Subrata Shiv, said that not a single farmer in Jampui Hills grows orange. “Still, it has a good name in other states and it’s also a pride of Tripura. On several occasions, teams of scientists came here to encourage them for adopting the orange cultivation once again, but they are least interested now, since the profit in areca nuts is more,” Shiv said.
“The name of the disease is ‘dieback’, which is curable. We even assured them that we are with them and we will help them but it did not work. I am trying to restore the cultivation of oranges in Jampui. We are losing our past glory,” Shiv added.