Tourism In Satara
Strawberries remind us of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani. Sweet and sour taste of fresh, red strawberries in first temptation for the tourists planning for a vacation to these spots. Realizing the climatic conditions suitable for the fruit, the British brought strawberries here. Growing number of farmers started cultivating it to meet its rising demand. Soon it became a major income source. Many enthusiastic farmers started experimenting to improve qualities of strawberries. Thus fruit become popular across the globe. But farmers were still far from commercial benefits.
- Mr. Mahesh Rasal
- Mr. Umesh Rasal
A couple of years ago, Mahesh Rasal and Umesh Rasal began to research new techniques so that farmers would reap more profits. They are supported by Mr. Balasaheb Bhilare, the local political leadership. He is focusing on tourism development in the region through the programs implemented by the zillaparishad. Mr.Bhilare says: The only way to earn more from strawberries is by producing more.
Mahesh Rasal hails from Dabewadi near Satara. He completed his primary education from New English School, Satara and gained his bachelors degree from Lal Bahadur Shastri College. He was always interested in agriculture. In 2002, he served in a company in Import Export activities in Gujrat. In Pune, he was acquainted with Umesh Rasal. Both wanted to experiment in agricultural venture. While speaking to a farmer in Mahalbaleshwar, they came to know that strawberry farming is not profitable if compared to the capital and efforts put in it. The saplings had to be imported. Fertilizers and maintenance cost was also too high. Water was not sufficient during summer which is the chief season for tourism.
Strawberry, Fragaria sp. , is a highly perishable berry. It is a native of temperate regions. Its varieties can be cultivated in subtropical climate. In India, they are cultivated in hills. They are shallow rooted, perennial plants requiring well drained loam soils with 2% or higher organic matter and high fertility.
Cool climate favors strawberries, Mahesh Rasal and Umesh Rasal studied the climate and soil in Mahabaleshwar.They wanted a species which would suit to the geographical conditions here. Strawberries are grown at a few places in the world. In India, they are preferably imported from Europe. The duo learnt that certain species was researched and developed in Italy. So they invited Italian experts to visit their farms in Mahabaleshwar. They ecommended certain species after carefully considering soil and all other factors. Mr. Rasal and Mr. Rasal later formed Ă…“KrushiMitra to supply suitable saplings of strawberries to the local farmers.
In 2010-11, they successfully trialed strawberry species imported from Italy. The produce was better quality and ample. Mr. Rasal and Mr. Rasal spoke to farmers and convinced them about the benefits of new imported species. They guided farmers from even minor details of cultivating these species to their harvesting. All these efforts were fruitful, Strawberry farmers were somehow managing two ends meet. But the new techniques almost tripled their profits.
They explained this growth in a simple way. Formerly, a bush would yield about 300 to 500 gms of fruits. With improved species the gain has gone upto 1000 gms. Thats where it becomes more profitable. Initially maintenance cost was about 50 to 60% which is now reduced to 5 to 10%. Now the fruits are larger and fresher with increased shelf life. Due to increasing demand, more and more farmers are now considering strawberries as a reliable income source.
Today about 2500 to 3000 acres are under strawberry cultivation in Mahabaleshwar alone. In Satara district, it is about 4500 acres. All over the world, strawberry farming lasts for only three months every year. Whereas in Mahabaleshwar, its now about seven months a year. So Mr. Rasal are hopeful about settling Europian market here in nearest future. This western hill station now contributes almost 85 percent of Indias total production.
Limited shelf life is a major constraint for exporting strawberries. Mr. Rasal are experimenting to overcome this hurdle, too. Recently, they had a trial run on exporting the fruit to Malaysia.
With growing yield, by products like jams, jellies, syrups, squash are also being considered. All efforts are being taken to ensure growth, safety and quality of the Strawberry Growers Association, Mr. BalasahebBhilare is keenly looking after these objectives. He says Marketing the bumper crop is always a challenge but the recent trend of malls and big retail chains has been beneficial for the farmers. Reliance comes to our village and buys directly from us they give us 25 pecent more than the other wholesalers in Mumbai.
We appreciate Mr. Rasal for their ongoing contribution to further development of strawberry project in all respects.