As apple growers in Himachal Pradesh completed a hundred years of fruitful efforts of cultivating delicious and luscious varieties of the fruit, celebrations begun in the state today. However, the state government did not mark the centenary. The fruit’s cultivation in Himachal Pradesh, with more than 90 per cent of the produce going to the domestic market, has brought prosperity to the cultivators over the past half century, say experts.
“The apple growers of Kotgarh and its nearby areas celebrated 100 successful years of apple cultivation at a function,” cultivator and gram panchayat head Amar Singh Nalwa told IANS. He said the first apple orchard in the state was planted in Kotgarh in Thanedar panchayat, some 85 km from Shimla, on this day in 1916 and that had helped Kotgarh to progress economically, socially and also marked its presence on the global map.
Nalwa, the brain behind the function, said it was organised at the initiative of the local growers and there was no celebration from the government. State’s apple boom is credited to Samuel Evans Stokes (later named Satyanand Stokes), an American missionary who first introduced the high-quality apples in the mid-altitude hills. From a small orchard in Kotgarh, Stokes promoted the apple cultivation in other areas too, especially in upper Shimla that currently alone accounts for 80 per cent of state’s total apple production. Since then the hill state has been synonymous with apples that alone constitute 89 per cent of the state’s fruit economy of Rs 3,500 crore ($520 million).
Stokes’s daughter-in-law and Horticulture Minister Vidya Stokes is now managing the family’s orchard located here. She attended the function, which also saw a photo exhibition on Satyanand Stokes’ life as a local apple cultivator. Apple grower Vinod Chauhan of Banot village in the Kotgarh area said Satyanand Stokes, who came to India as a missionary in 1905 during the Kangra earthquake, later decided to settle in Kotgarh. He had purchased a huge chunk of land where he planted apple rootstocks brought from the US. Before opting for apple cultivation, the locals were planting mainly wheat, maize and pulses.
“Initially the locals were doubtful about the success of apple cultivation in the area. Seeing the success in the orchard of Stokes, some of the locals opted its cultivation in the early 1930s,” said Chauhan, whose fifth generation is also settled in Kotgarh. By 1960s, he said, the entire region bloomed with apple cultivation and that mainly brought unprecedented prosperity. Currently, the Kotgarh-Thanedar area is among those with the highest per capita income in Southeast Asia. The locals have diversified the apple crop by growing cherries, apricots, almonds and nectarines. Besides Shimla, most of the apple cultivation is concentrated in the districts of Kullu, Mandi, Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur and Chamba. Surveys of the state horticulture department show the productivity of apple ranges from 6 to 11.5 tonnes per hectare in the state, in comparison to 35 to 40 tonnes per hectare in more advanced countries. The area under apple cultivation in Himachal Pradesh has increased from 3,025 hectares in 1960-61 to 109,553 hectares in 2014-15, which constitutes more than 49 per cent of the total area under fruit cultivation.