Apple cultivation in Himachal Pradesh has become the mainstay of over 1.7 lakh families in the state as the orchards now cover 1,09,533 hectares, around 49 per cent of the total area under fruit cultivation.
The area under apple cultivation was meager 40 hectares in 1950-51 and 3,025 hectares in 1960-61 but today it counts for 49 per cent of total area under fruit production and 85 per cent of total horticulture produce which has touched 8.19 lakh at present, an official spokesperson said.
The diverse agro-climatic conditions, topographical variations, altitudinal differences coupled with fertile, deep and well drained soils favoured cultivation of temperate to subtropical fruits in the state.
"With sustained efforts of the government, the area under fruit cultivation has increased from 792 hectares in 1950-51 to 2.25 lakh hectares and apple was main crop grown in Shimla, Kullu, Kinnaur, Mandi, Chamba and Sirmaur districts and now, even in the tribal Lahaul-Spiti district, people are taking to apple plantation on a large scale.
"Rs 3,500 crore apple economy of the state was not only its backbone but also involved thousands of stakeholders such as transporters, carton manufacturers, Controlled Atmosphere Store/Cold Chain owners, wholesale fruit dealers, fruit processing unit owners etc. from other states," the spokesman said.
Apple cultivation is providing gainful employment to millions of people of the region and the living standards of people has improved enormously and the government was providing high yielding varieties of apple and better marketing infrastructure to the growers, he said.
In order to safeguard the interests of the growers against adverse climatic conditions, the state government has introduced several schemes like weather-based Crop Insurance Scheme for protecting the crops of horticulturists from natural vagaries.
A World Bank funded horticulture development project is also being implemented in the state with an outlay of Rs 1,115 crore.
The project spread over a period of seven years would focus on providing new technologies to the horticulturists for increasing their crop productivity and capacities.
To protect fruit crops, especially apple from hailstorm, the government has enhanced the subsidy on anti-hailnets to 80 per cent, the spokesman said.
Further, in order to provide better marketing facilities to the farmers, ten market yards and collection centres had been made operational during past 43 months by incurring an expenditure of Rs 27.45 crore, he added.