The withering orange trees

Arunkumar Bhatt

NAGPUR: Over 60 per cent of Vidarbha's orange trees, trees that have earned Nagpur the sobriquet of `orange city', have withered. And those that have survived the drought have hardly had any mriga bahar, or July blossom.

Orange trees blossom twice a year, in July and in December, providing two crops. The July blossom yields sweet and larger size fruits while the December or ambya blossom gives smaller fruits that are a little sour. But this year, the farmers' hopes have soured. The third sowing of cotton and soyabean has failed too, and they are broke.

At least two farmers of Narkhed taluk of Nagpur district committed suicide last week. Their third sowing failed and about 400 trees that each of them had, dried up. The trees had started withering during the summer after their wells dried up. They had expected that the process would be reversed with the onset of the monsoon. But that hope was in vain.

Traditionally, for the farmers of Nagpur, Amravati and Wardha districts of the region orange trees have provided a hedge against crop failures and adverse market conditions. This has been particularly true of the small and medium cultivators who prefer to have an orange garden on around 30 per cent of their holding.

About 80,000 hectares is under orange cultivation in Vidarbha. Of this, nearly half is with small and medium farmers.

An orange garden on an acre with roughly 100 trees can yield 18 tonnes of oranges worth Rs. 90,000 to Rs. 1.5 lakh a year.

An orange tree is raised as a child of the family would be. It starts blossoming at five years. Then it becomes a source of regular income for at least 30 years. Trees that are 50 years old are not uncommon. But now hundreds of rows of dry and drying orange trees stand like dead bouquets. As you drive along the State Highway from Kalmeshwar to Katol to Nrkheda in Nagpur district and to Warud in Amravati, this depressing sight hits you. Those farmers with access to irrigation have managed to save about half of their trees. But those without water have lost 90 to 100 per cent of them. The loss of the trees has affected their financial security in a major way.

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