The Covid-induced lockdown did not turn out bitter for the kinnow — a citrus fruit resembling orange — growers and farm labourers of Punjab and Haryana as they got handsome returns from the natural fruit droppings.
A few years back the self-aborted small oranges, once considered the agricultural waste, were either left in the fields to decay or dumped unscientifically at nearby roadsides.
Now they are being procured for medicinal purposes.
Farm experts told IANS this season the aborted or immature droppings locally called aker’ with diameter less than 1.8 cm from kinnow trees between May and June were unbelievable high owing to frequent climatic variations in the past.
And the droppings have ensured strong financial support to the farmers and part-time labourers amid critical financial crunch.
For nearly 25,000 farmers in Punjab’s Fazilka district, Haryana’s Sirsa district and some pockets in Rajasthan the semi-dry droppings turned out to be windfall as they fetched Rs 50 a kg by selling to a Himachal Pradesh-based firm, Hindustan FarmDirect Ingredients Private Ltd, that is creating value through horticulture waste.
Estimates say the dropping material worth Rs 30 crore was purchased from the growers in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. The ‘ker’ sale proceeds have gone directly in the bank accounts of the farmers.
The company has procured 6,000 metric tonnes of the kinnow droppings this year from the growers against 2,000 metric tonnes in the previous year. In 2018, the procurement was just 750 metric tonnes.
Abohar subdivision in Fazilka is the hub by producing 60 per cent of the state’s kinnow with around 33,000 hectares under its plantation. Abohar is normally producing 7-8 lakh metric tonnes of kinnow every winter that fetches Rs 15-18 a kg.
“This time the self-aborted small kinnows were high owing to temperature variations during the last winter and this summer,” Naresh Bishnoi, who owns a 50-acre orchard in Abohar, said.
“The flowering (in April) was good, so was the dropping of the immature fruits. We were initially apprehensive that no firm would come forward this time amidst lockdown to buy them from the growers,” he said.
One acre normally has 200-225 trees of kinnows. A grower normally earns Rs 15,000 per acre by selling the sun dried droppings at Rs 50 per kg, say farmers.
Also hand-picking of aborted oranges from the farms, their packaging and transportation at and from the procurement centres created jobs amid the lockdown.
“When local people had not business due to pandemic for at least three months, the natural dropping of ‘ker’ turned out to be a good financial help both to farmers and local labourers, who had no other work opportunity,” said Rajinder Singh Sekhon of Dhanpat Siag village in Fazilka district.
He said daily-wage farm labourers managed to earn Rs 500-1,000 a day for the work, a major succour during the lockdown.
Hindustan FarmDirect Ingredients Private Ltd, the company which has been largely purchasing the aborted oranges from the growers in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan for the past four years, said this year the orchards had abnormally high droppings.
Company’s Senior Operations Manager Anil Bajaj told IANS the purchase of the horticulture waste has overall improved the economic activity.
The kinnow dropping, he said, is used to manufacture hesperidin that has a huge pharmaceutical market in the Europe.
Punjab is the largest producer of kinnow in the country with over 49,000 hectares of land with 10 lakh tonne of annual output. It is mainly grown in the semi-arid zones of Abohar, Hoshiarpur, Mansa, Muktsar and Bathinda districts.
Haryana’s Sirsa and Bhiwani are the hubs of the kinnow, while in Rajasthan they are Sri Ganganagar and Hanumangarh.