By enabling the hill farmers to settle in their native villages by promoting high-value apple cultivation, and, increasing their incomes, the project aims to ‘reverse migration’ of farmers from cities to villages to take up apple cultivation as a profession
Dhanachuli, Uttarakhand: With an aim to enhance livelihood opportunities for over 500,000 farmers, Coca-Cola launched ‘Apple Unnati’ project in Uttarakhand in 2018.
The company started this program in the Himalayan state with an aim of enabling farmers to increase their productivity by five times.
In order to ensure well-being of farming communities, improve yields and propagate judicious use of natural resources, the company partnered with Indo Dutch Horticulture Technologies Pvt. Ltd. (IDHT) as its implementation partner.
Speaking to Firstpost, a beneficiary farmer said that the project changed her life as her land was barren for years until she was approached by the IDHT team and made aware of the potential.
Another farmer, Vijendra Rana said, “This is a miracle, Coca-Cola and IDTH’s miracle!”
Under the project, the farmers are provided hands-on training on apple cultivation and are facilitated with single-point access to enabling infrastructure for increasing the productivity of their farms.
Demo farms have been set up across the state as part of the project to showcase new superior varieties of apple, grown as part of the ultra-high-density plantation.
To save water, the drip irrigation concept is advocated by project volunteers.
Under UHDP cultivation, the apple plant is supported with a trellis system to help it grow as a creeper and hail nets are put in place for protection from hailstone damage.
The demo farms also facilitate access to enabling infrastructure, including high-yielding cultivar of planting material best suited to the Indian agro-climate, which would make apple production lucrative with a reduced payback period of around four years.
Winning farmers’ trust
According to Dr Aditya Panda, senior manager, CSR and Sustainability, Coca-Cola, the biggest challenge they faced in the execution of the initiative was to win the trust of the famers.
Panda told Firstpost, “Had we failed to win their trust once, there was no way they were coming back to us.”
The Unnati team introduced the farmers to the modern ultra high-density method of apple cultivation.
Demonstration farms were set up for farmers to see, believe, and trust the cultivation practice.
Coca-Cola also subsidised the establishment cost for farmers who agreed to take trials on their fields, Dr Panda said.
Apart from this, to make the farmers understand the new practice, extensive village-level training and handholding the farmers throughout their entire plantation journey were carried out.
Retaining youth in the state
With the population increasing at an alarming rate, migration is one of the biggest challenges being faced by the Indian states. However, in the case of the hill states, the issue is that youth are leaving their homes in search of job opportunities.
As per Sudhir Chadha, the director of IDHT, project Apple Unnati has the potential of bringing down migration from the valley by 90 percent.
By enabling the hill farmers to settle in their native villages by promoting high-value apple cultivation, and, increasing their incomes by five times, the project aims to ‘reverse migration’ of farmers from cities to villages to take up apple cultivation as a profession.
Apple Unnati: Making India self-sufficient
As per Dr Panda, the project has larger objectives of making India self-sufficient in apple production leading to import substitution, and making modern technology available to farmers at a lower cost and faster pace.
Apple production in India
In India, apple production is predominantly limited to Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
The country’s average apple productivity is nearly half of the global average and Uttarakhand, despite its favourable climate and vast available land for greenfield apple cultivation, has a productivity of 3-4 tonnes per hectare per annum, which is half the nation’s average productivity.
After the successful completion of the first phase of Project Unnati – Apple, CCIPL now intends to extend the project by another three years and would work with the apple farmers of the State of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh on “Project Unnati – Apple (Phase 2)”. At the same time, Unnati Apple will also reach out to farmers of Jammu and Kashmir to shift to UHDP plantation of apple from traditional methods.
The project is Coca-Cola’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project with a budget of Rs 4.13 crore.