Ambuja Cement Foundation helps scale up Strawberry production at Farakka

Kolkata : As many as 35 farmers from Farakka in West Bengal have each made over Rs.1 lakh in profits by switching to strawberry cultivation. The crop was introduced to the agrarians by Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF), the corporate social responsibility arm of Ambuja Cements Ltd., in partnership with IndusInd Bank, as part of a pilot project in 2020-21.

The foundation helped set up the necessary infrastructure for the crop and imparted the training to farmers to grow the fruit. The objective behind the intervention was to raise farmers’ income.

Marketing was an important item on the agenda, so the foundation initiated a market survey. At first, they visited local retail fruit shops and markets and contacted shopping malls in peripheral areas. It later initiated discussions across locations to explore the market.

Considering that strawberry is a perishable product, the foundation scouted for a more tolerable variety that lasts long and offers improved yields. The farmers, it was observed, had become adept at growing strawberries. A year ago, some farmers were urged to take up strawberry cultivation and the learnings from it was that it could help them earn a lump sum within 2-3 months. As a result, ACF decided to scale up strawberry production. An order of 40,000 plants was placed for 35 farmers, with the number of plants ordered being four times last year.

Mr. Neeraj Akhoury, CEO India Holcim and Managing Director & CEO of Ambuja Cements Ltd., said, “We observed that the people living in rural areas need greater access to economic development. This is more so in the case of our agrarians—a majority of who are fragmented and landless. Economic development of our farmers can end poverty in India’s hinterland. Our focus was to target farmers with assured irrigation and other facilities so that they can earn their livelihood.”

Laxmipur village fulfils the criteria of assured irrigation, where a plantation in a two-acre area tended by six farmers was started. Prior to this, the farmers were trained on soil preparation and management. The farmers planted up to 12,000 plants per acre. Plant spacing, use of polyethene mulching and application of liquid fertilizer, vitamins through spray were ensured through intensive day to day monitoring.

After nurturing for over one month, the plants—and the fruit—in the plot matured, to which farmers expressed their surprise. In a week, strawberry production reached one quintal.

Initially farmers earned Rs.350 per kg from their produce. The farmers promoted and started sale of strawberry in the local market and in the adjacent district markets of Malda and Raiganj on a daily basis. Production hit a peak of 50 kg per day during January and mid-February.

As temperatures increased in the summer months, production gradually declined. The farmers are currently producing 450 kg of strawberry per 0.33 acre on average, with each famer making a profit of around Rs.1 lakh. In total, 158 quintals of the fruit was grown that netted a profit of Rs.39.62 lakh. The bulk of the profits were made during November to February.

The farmers are now demanding additional plants and ACF has assured to supply them 1 lakh plants for the upcoming season.

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